'Lulapalooza': inauguration party sweeps Brazil's capital

Singing at the top of their lungs, parading with carnival-style flare and waving giant red and rainbow flags, tens of thousands of people flooded Brazil's capital Sunday for "Lulapalooza," a presidential inauguration with a rock-festival vibe.

Brazil's New Year's Eve party continued into January 1 for fans of veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who defeated far-right president Jair Bolsonaro in October's election and now returns for a third term that supporters hope will turn the page on four turbulent and divisive years.

Near the seat of power in ultra-modern capital city Brasilia, a group of Indigenous dancers covered in body paint played traditional percussion instruments and sang.

"Shake your maracas, life will get better with Lula as president," went their song -- echoing the charismatic but controversial ex-president's promise to "make Brazil happy again," like during the boom years of his first presidency (2003-2010).

Indigenous groups have been among the biggest critics of Bolsonaro, who pushed to open their protected reservations to mining and presided over a surge in destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

"I came to see Lula's inauguration because I don't like Bolsonaro. Unlike him, Lula respects Indigenous peoples," said Indigenous chief Bepkriti Teseia, 42, sporting a giant feather headdress and speaking through an interpreter.

Fans from across the country stood in huge lines to filter through the tight security cordon around the presidential palace and Congress, belting out chants as they waited, such as "Lula, guerreiro do povo brasileiro!" (Lula, warrior of the Brazilian people).

Most were decked out in the red of Lula's Workers' Party (PT). But 15-year-old Sofia de Souza Martins came in Brazilian yellow and green, which Bolsonaro supporters had claimed as their symbol.

"These colors belong to everyone," said the Sao Paulo high school student, who traveled some 1,000 kilometers (more than 600 miles) by bus for the event, which the outgoing president snubbed by flying off to the US state of Florida Friday.

- Carnival and concerts -

Brazil's inauguration day is set to be a mix of pomp and party, combining traditional ceremonies like the oath of office and bestowing of the presidential sash with parades and concerts by acts like samba legend Martinho da Vila and drag queen Pabllo Vittar.

Billed as "Lulapalooza" -- a play on the famed Lollapalooza music festival -- it was organized chiefly by Lula's wife, Rosangela "Janja" da Silva, 56, whom the twice-widowed 77-year-old married in May.

There was a colorful carnival atmosphere in the massive security line, where fans brandished a three-meter (nearly 10-foot) tall Lula effigy -- a "boneco," or traditional carnival figure from the northeastern city of Olinda.

"It's a historic moment, let's hope it marks a turning point," 37-year-old northeasterner Joliel Silva told AFP, carrying a gay-pride flag.

"We're emerging from four horrible years, but we get back the best president Brazil ever had. Under Lula, I saw lots of young blacks like me go to university, and poor people's purchasing power expanded. My father was able to buy his first car."

To the Brazilian left, it is a bright new day, after the dark years that saw Lula's hand-picked successor, Dilma Rousseff, impeached in 2016, and Lula himself imprisoned for 18 months from 2018 to 2019 on controversial, since-quashed corruption charges.

Loide Farias, 49, emotionally recalled protesting outside the federal police building in her southern hometown, Curitiba, where Lula was jailed.

"Seeing Lula return to power is priceless," she said.

"We cried so many tears seeing him in prison, fearing he would never get out. But we always kept up hope."