Lula calls for unity as Brazil celebrates Independence Day

By Ricardo Brito

BRASILIA (Reuters) -President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva urged Brazilians to unite around common goals ahead of an Independence Day parade on Thursday, as he seeks to tackle the politicization of the armed forces that gathered steam under his right-wing predecessor.

More than 3,000 troops marched past the president and cabinet ministers in a display of pageantry on the central esplanade of Brasilia, where an estimated 30,000 people attended the annual event.

Tight security measures had been put in place in case of protests by supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro, some of whom stormed government buildings a week after Lula took office in January, but no major demonstrations were reported.

"Happy to watch such a beautiful parade," Lula wrote on social media network X. "Long live Brazil."

In a televised address on Wednesday evening, the president touted the achievements of his first eight months in office - including strong economic growth - and called for unity after last year's election, the most fraught in a generation.

"Brazil's independence needs to be built every day, by all of us, on three great foundations: democracy, sovereignty and unity," Lula said. "This is not a day of hate or fear; it is a day of unity."

Lula has sought to rebuild trust between his government and the military after removing several officers from his security teams over concerns they failed to protect the executive palace from invasion and vandalism by Bolsonaro supporters on Jan. 8.

The leftist leader replaced the Army commander and has coaxed the military back into their barracks after his predecessor placed thousands of officers in government roles. Bolsonaro also pushed the armed forces to publicly endorse his political views.

During last year's bicentennial Independence Day, in the final stretch of a heated presidential campaign, Bolsonaro mixed military displays with a political rally drawing hundreds of thousands of supporters.

On Thursday, Bolsonaro posted a video on X of him attending the 2022 parade captioned with his political slogan, "God, homeland, family and freedom."

Bolsonaro has never conceded his defeat by Lula and was banned from seeking elected office for eight years due to his conduct during the 2022 election campaign, when he summoned ambassadors to vent unfounded claims about Brazil's voting system.

(Reporting by Ricardo Brito; Writing by Anthony Boadle and Gabriel Araujo; Editing by Brad Haynes, Alexandra Hudson and Rosalba O'Brien)