Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva took office Sunday for a third term as Brazil's president, vowing to fight for the poor and the environment and "rebuild the country" after far-right leader Jair Bolsonaro's divisive administration.
The 77-year-old veteran leftist, who previously led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, took the oath of office before Congress, capping a remarkable political comeback for the metalworker-turned-president less than five years after he was jailed on controversial, since-quashed corruption charges.
Giving a blistering overview of the past four years under Bolsonaro -- who snubbed the ceremony, in a break with tradition -- Lula said his government would work to undo a legacy of economic decline, funding cuts in health, education and science, and the "stupidity" of plundering the nation's resources for private gain.
"Upon these terrible ruins, I pledge to rebuild the country together with the Brazilian people," he said, vowing to fight to improve life for poor Brazilians, work toward racial and gender equality, and achieve zero deforestation in the Amazon rainforest, where destruction surged under Bolsonaro.
"The mandate we received, in the face of opponents inspired by fascism, will be defended through our democratic constitution. We will respond to hate with love, to lies with the truth, to terrorism and violence with the law."
Wearing a blue suit and tie, the charismatic but controversial Lula arrived for the ceremony in a black convertible Rolls-Royce, accompanied by First Lady Rosangela "Janja" da Silva and Vice President Geraldo Alckmin.
The swearing-in began with a minute of silence for Brazilian football legend Pele and former pope Benedict XVI, who both died in recent days.
Tens of thousands of red-clad supporters cheered loudly as their motorcade slowly rolled down Brasilia's Esplanade of Ministries, escorted by dozens of bodyguards.
Security was exceptionally tight for the ceremony, with some 8,000 police deployed, after a Bolsonaro supporter was arrested last week for planting a tanker truck rigged with explosives near the capital's airport, a plot he said aimed to "sow chaos" in the South American country.
Police said they arrested another man Sunday who tried to enter the secured inaugural ceremony area carrying a knife and fireworks.
It is the first time since the end of Brazil's 1965-1985 military dictatorship that an incoming leader has not received the yellow-and-green presidential sash from his predecessor.
Bolsonaro left Brazil for the US state of Florida Friday.
The snub hardly dampened the party spirit for Lula and the throngs of people who turned out for the New Year's Day ceremony and a massive celebration concert featuring acts ranging from samba legend Martinho da Vila to drag queen Pabllo Vittar.
A flood of Lula supporters from around the country formed massive lines to filter through the security cordon, belting out pro-Lula chants.
"I'm excited beyond measure," retired teacher Zenia Maria Soares Pinto, 71, told AFP after traveling 30 hours by bus from the southern state of Santa Catarina.
"I have so much admiration for his humility, his commitment to ensuring the people live in dignity," added Pinto, part of a crowd cheering for Lula outside the hotel where the new president spent the night.
Machine operator Valter Gildo, 46, called it a "historic day."
"Today marks the return of a working man to the presidential palace, someone who fights for social causes, for minorities, against racism and homophobia, a person who represents Brazil," he said.
Foreign dignitaries including 19 heads of state were in attendance as Lula, who previously led Brazil through a watershed boom, took the oath of office for a new four-year term.
They included the presidents of a raft of Latin American countries, Germany, Portugal and the king of Spain.
After being sworn in before Congress, Lula will go to the ultra-modern capital's presidential palace, the Planalto.
There, he will walk up a ramp to the entrance and receive the gold- and diamond-embroidered presidential sash.
Pressing to-do list
Lula faces numerous urgent challenges in the Latin American giant, which looks little like the commodities-fueled dynamo he led in the 2000s.
They include rebooting economic growth, curbing rampant destruction of the Amazon rainforest and delivering on his ambitious agenda to fight poverty and inequality.
Markets are meanwhile watching nervously how Lula will fund his promised social spending, given Brazil's overstretched government finances.
Lula will face a Congress dominated by Bolsonaro's conservative allies.
In a sign of how polarized the country remains, far-right hardliners have been protesting outside army bases ever since Lula's narrow runoff win on October 30, calling for a military intervention to keep him from taking power.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)