Supporters of Brazilian former President Jair Bolsonaro invade Planalto Presidential Palace in Brasilia on January 8, 2023. AFP

Brazil's high court opened the first trials Wednesday over the January 8 riots in Brasilia by supporters of far-right ex-President Jair Bolsonaro, who were demanding the ouster of his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

The first four accused went on trial before the Supreme Court in the capital, one of the three buildings invaded and ransacked that day by thousands of Bolsonaro supporters, along with the presidential palace and Congress.

The riots deeply shook a nation still divided by veteran leftist Lula's narrow win over Bolsonaro in Brazil's October 2022 presidential race, and drew inevitable comparisons to the invasion of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 by supporters of then-president Donald Trump, Bolsonaro's political role model.

Prosecutor Carlos Frederico Santos called the case a "milestone" for Brazil, which returned to democracy in the 1980s after two decades of military dictatorship.

"We have turned the page on the days of coups. Those who embrace the spurious idea that power can be won through violence and in violation of constitutional norms must respond for the resulting crimes," he told the court.

Outraged over Bolsonaro's loss to Lula in Brazil's polarizing October 30 runoff, thousands of his supporters overwhelmed security to storm the seat of power in Brasilia a week after Lula's inauguration, calling for a military intervention to oust the newly installed president.

They ran riot inside the three buildings, smashing windows, throwing furniture into fountains, vandalizing artworks and turning the Senate's central dais into a slide.

The lead judge on the case, Alexandre de Moraes, opened the session saying the Supreme Court would be considering a total of "232 cases involving the most serious alleged crimes, the first four of which we will begin trying today."

The four men on trial, aged between 24 and 52, are accused of crimes including armed criminal conspiracy, violent uprising against the rule of law and an attempted coup.

They each face a total of up to 30 years in prison.

They have denied the accusations against them, saying they believed the protests would be peaceful.

But prosecutors said the first accused, 51-year-old Aecio Pereira, had openly incited a coup.

Santos said the evidence against him included a cell phone video he recorded during the riots, in which he appeared in front of the Senate chamber celebrating the invasion, wearing a T-shirt with the words "Federal Military Intervention."

"His support for the coup-mongering intent of the anti-democratic horde is irrefutable," Santos said.

Lawyers for Pereira, reportedly a former employee of the Sao Paulo municipal sanitation company, told the court their client was unarmed and committed no acts of violence.

Defense attorney Sebastiao Coelho da Silva called the trial "politically motivated."

In addition to the 232 cases already filed before the Supreme Court, prosecutors are investigating more than 1,000 others over the attacks, mostly on lesser charges that could be settled in plea bargains.

Investigators are also working to trace the financial backers behind the protests and establish whether police and army officers played a role. Seven Brasilia police commanders were arrested last month for dereliction of duty in connection with the riots.

Bolsonaro, who was in the United States at the time, meanwhile faces investigation over accusations of inciting the riots.

The 68-year-old ex-army captain, an open admirer of Brazil's 1964-1985 military regime, denies wrongdoing.

"Some people are obsessed with trying to link me" to the January 8 riots, he told newspaper Folha de Sao Paulo on Monday.

Bolsonaro is also under investigation over various allegations of corruption and abuse of office.

In June, electoral authorities barred him from running for office for eight years over his unproven allegations that Brazil's electronic voting system was vulnerable to large-scale fraud.

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