Two dead, five injured in knife attack on German train

Two people were killed and five injured in a knife attack on a train from Kiel to Hamburg in northern Germany on Wednesday, Schleswig-Holstein's Interior Minister Sabine Sütterlin-Waack told dpa.

A man attacked passengers with a knife shortly before 3 pm (1400 GMT), before the train arrived at Brokstedt station, police said earlier.

Police officers arrested the suspected attacker shortly afterwards in Brokstedt. The motive was not clear.

The railway station was closed off by police.

Brokstedt is a small community about 60 kilometres north of Hamburg in the state of Schleswig-Holstein.

Freighter sinks off South Korea, several crew members still missing

Members of the Coast Guard engage in search and rescue operation in waters 148.2 kilometres southeast of the city of Seogwipo on Jeju Island after Jin Tian, a Hong Kong-registered cargo ship carrying 22 crew members, sank off the southern island. -/YNA/dpa

At least 14 crew members have been rescued after a cargo ship sunk in the sea between South Korea and Japan, a spokesperson for the South Korean cost guard said on Wednesday.

However it was unclear how many of the rescued crew were still alive, he said. South Korean news agency Yonhap reported that at least 11 were unconscious when rescued.

The ship sent a distress call early on Wednesday morning about 150 kilometres south-east off the South Korean island of Jeju, Yonhap reported. When the coast guard reached the location, the vessel had already sunk. The cause of the incident was initially unclear.

According to preliminary information, 22 people had been aboard the 6,551-ton freighter that was sailing under the flag of Hong Kong, transporting timber.

Six of the crew members were pulled out of the water by the South Korean coast guard while the rest was rescued by the Japanese coast guard as well as civilian vessels, according to the spokesperson.

Erdoğan: Sweden cannot count on NATO support after Koran burning

Sweden cannot count on Turkey's support for joining NATO after a right-wing extremist politician burned a copy of the Koran in Stockholm, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Monday.

"If you don't show respect for the Turkish Republic or the religious beliefs of Muslims, then you can't get any support from us in terms of NATO," Erdogan said in Ankara.

Sweden needs Turkey's approval to become a member of NATO. But tensions between the two countries have risen in recent weeks, stalling Stockholm's bid.

The latest setback comes after a small protest in the Swedish capital on Saturday led by Rasmus Paldudan, a politician and anti-Islam activist from Denmark.

Swedish media said a a copy of the holy book of Islam was burned near the Turkish Embassy.

The stunt was a "disgrace," Erdogan said.

Sweden and neighbouring Finland applied for NATO membership in May last year in the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

All 30 NATO members must ratify the bids. Only Turkey and Hungary have yet to approve the expansion.

Turkey accuses Sweden of supporting groups which Ankara considers terrorists, including Kurdish insurgents and a group blamed for a failed military coup in 2016. It is demanding the extradition of a number of people.

Tensions between Stockholm and Ankara have been running especially high for two weeks since a protest in which an effigy of Erdoğan was hanged from its feet in Stockholm.

Florida seeing fewer falling iguanas as reptiles adapt to the cold

Green Anole lizards were among the kinds scientists studied. This male green anole lizard flares his throat fan in a backyard. The male anole uses this technique to protect his territory and attract a mate. Bob Karp/ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

Alongside runs on hot chocolate and churros, cold-stunned iguanas dropping from trees are one of South Florida’s most iconic winter traditions.

When it gets cold, videos of the reptiles sprawled on the ground pop up all over social media, including during the recent Christmas cold snap that plunged temperatures into the 40s near Miami.

But ongoing research suggests Florida’s falling iguana phenomenon could be rarer in the future — both due to climbing global temperatures from unchecked climate change and a shift in cold hardiness in the lizards themselves. That’s right, the big lizards (cue the sci fi movie music) appear to be adapting.

That’s a bummer for anyone hoping that the latest prolonged dip into colder temperatures could help knock back the rapidly growing population of exotic reptiles that rank among the state’s most damaging invasive creatures.

Iguanas are more than a garden and landscape-chomping nuisance in South Florida. They can carry infectious bacteria like Salmonella, devour endangered plants and animals and undermine seawalls and canal banks. On at least one recent occasion, a rogue iguana in search of a snack also knocked out power to an entire city. It wasn’t the first time one had fried an electrical system.

When temperatures drop, cold-blooded reptiles like iguanas lose the ability to control their muscles, sending them raining down from the trees they call home or unable to respond to the pokes and prods from curious humans. Once they warm up, they typically snap out of their stupor. But prolonged exposure or freezing temperatures can be fatal and biologists have long pointed to frigid snaps as the only realistic hope for curbing the population boom. Recent research suggests it may need to get a lot colder than it did last week. How much and how long is a still-unanswered question.

James Stroud, a postdoctoral research associate at Washington University in St. Louis, found that most of South Florida’s most common lizard species are able to withstand slightly lower temperatures than they could even just four years earlier — a drop of about 2 degrees Fahrenheit, according to their 2020 paper published in the journal Biology Letters.

“What we saw is every one of these different types of lizards, they could now move at much colder temperatures than they did before,” he said.

For professional iguana hunter Steve Kavashansky, that checks out.

Speaking from Miami Beach, where his company, Iguana Busters, has one of several contracts to eradicate the invasive reptiles, Kavashansky said he’s getting fewer calls after a cold snap to deal with dead or stunned iguanas.

“Cooler weather that in years past would have stunned the iguanas, we’re not seeing that now,” he said. “We used to get calls all the time. Over the years we’ve seen those calls decrease because they’re getting acclimated.”

Kavashansky said he’s also heard reports of iguanas appearing as far north as Orlando, which could validate researchers’ theory that iguana populations may move north as they get used to slightly colder temperatures.

Stroud’s study found the magic number for all seven species they looked at was about 44 degrees Fahrenheit. At that point, most South Florida lizards freeze up.

Discovering that number involved packing lizards into an ice-filled cooler and monitoring their internal body temperature over the hour or so it took to cool them down. For the original 2020 study, the coolers were too small for iguanas, so they weren’t included, but Stroud said that they’ve since upgraded to iguana-sized coolers and folded the reptiles into their research.

After the lizards are revived in warmer temperatures, they’re tagged and released back into the wilds of Fairchild Botanical Garden so Stroud and his team can run similar tests on them in the future.

But because researchers didn’t kill them, they’re not sure exactly what kind of cold is lethal for lizards.

“That’s one of the biggest questions we don’t know. We don’t know if it’s prolonged exposure to these temperatures that’s more harmful or one big cold snap,” he said.

The other outstanding questions in Stroud’s ongoing research are how and why, exactly, are these lizards adapting to the cold?

Christian Cox, an assistant professor of evolutionary biology at Florida International University, said the explanation could fall into one of two categories or a combination of both.

One likely explanation could be acclimation, that the animals are simply learning to adapt to their environment and undergoing an individual change. Cox likened it to how people who move to higher altitude places like Denver get used to the environment in a few short months.

On the other hand, the population could be evolving. As cold snaps winnow down the parts of the population that can’t survive them, there’s a possibility that the newer generations are evolving a hardiness to cold that their ancestors didn’t have.

For instance, in South Florida’s last serious cold snap in 2010, where temperatures dropped so low that ice formed on shallow water south of Florida City, iguanas and other invasive reptiles like the Burmese python, died off in droves. But an FWC study found the python population recovered quickly, dashing hopes that cold weather alone could contain the problematic snake’s exponential growth.

“What’s happening in Florida is really interesting because we have a bunch of species here that have already adapted to a new climate,” he said. “They’ve already gone through a filter that has allowed some species to become really well-established and it’ll be interesting to see how they continue to shift or hit the evolutionary wall.”

Cox is currently watching another type of lizard — the Panamanian slender anole — do just that.

To find out, his team plopped a bunch of lizards on the small islands created when the Chagras River valley was flooded to form the Panama Canal. Cox said these hilltops — now islands — are hotter and dryer than the anole’s usual habitat deep in the rainforest. Those conditions mimic what the population might see as the world warms from climate change.

Five years later, “we’re definitely finding evidence of acclimation and definitely seeing the potential for evolutionary change,” he said.

When temperatures drop, cold-blooded reptiles like iguanas lose the ability to control their muscles, sending them raining down from the trees they call home or unable to respond to the pokes and prods from curious humans. Soeren Stache/dpa
Scientists suspect iguana populations may move north as they get used to slightly colder temperatures. Marcos Pin/dpa

Davos founder says world suffering from 'deep societal fragmentation'

World Economic Forum chairman Klaus Schwab speaks in the Global Collaboration Village session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos. Walter Duerst/World Economic Forum/dpa

One the greatest challenges facing humanity is the "deep societal fragmentation" tearing countries and peoples apart, said World Economic Forum chairman Klaus Schwab on Tuesday.

"At the beginning of this year we are confronted with unprecedented and multiple challenges," Schwab warned in his opening address to the hundreds of business and government leaders assembled at the elite conclave he founded in Davos, Switzerland.

The 84-year-old argued the global economy was undergoing a "deep transformation" due to the lasting scars of the Covid-19 pandemic and cautioned the world could be turning into "a messy patchwork of powers."

He said he hoped Davos could help halt the "trend toward increased fragmentation and confrontation."

After two years of Covid-19 disruptions, the annual meeting returned to its long-established January programme in the Swiss Alps after going online in 2021 and then holding an untraditional springtime slot last year.

The high-end ski resort of Davos has been turned into a sea of security checkpoints while police forces drawn from across Switzerland have flooded the streets and helicopters circle overhead.

The theme of the 53rd meeting is "Cooperation in a Fragmented World."

Highlights of Tuesday's programme include a speech by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and an address by Ukrainian First Lady Olena Zelenska.

Julie Sweet (R), Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Accenture company, and World Economic Forum chairman Klaus Schwab speak in the Global Collaboration Village session at the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2023 in Davos. Walter Duerst/World Economic Forum/dpa

Europe's royals to bid farewell to Greece's last king

The coffin of the former King of Greece, Constantine II, is carried in a procession to the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens for the funeral service. Socrates Baltagiannis/dpa

Thousands of Greeks and almost all the royal houses of Europe and other members of the nobilty said farewell to Greece's deceased former king Constantine II in Athens on Monday.

Thousands of people gathered around the Orthodox cathedral in the centre of Athens to pay their last respects to the former king.

As the coffin was carried out of the cathedral after the funeral service, many people sang the Greek national anthem, as was broadcast on television.

The conservative government led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis decided that, since the monarchy in Greece was abolished by referendum in 1974, Constantine II would be buried as a private citizen,

The flags were not flown at half-mast and there were no military honours as is customary at funerals of former heads of state in Greece.

Members of the nobilty from 11 countries attended the funeral service. The royal couples of Denmark, Spain, Belgium, Sweden and the Netherlands were sighted. Britain was represented by King Charles III' sister, Princess Anne.

Numerous heirs to the throne as well as other nobles from Luxembourg, Monaco and members of former royal houses of Europe such as Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria also attended the funeral service, state radio reported.

Spanish royal mother Sofia and Spain's ex-king Juan Carlos also met at the funeral service. The two have become estranged after numerous financial scandals and extramarital affairs by Juan Carlos, who now lives in exile. As Greek television showed, the two barely exchanged a word on Monday and hardly looked at each other at all. They were last photographed together in mid-September 2022 at the funeral service of Britain's queen Elizabeth II.

Sofia is the sister of Constantine II, who married Juan Carlos in 1962.

For the conservative government in Athens, the funeral service and the burial were a political balancing act. Since parliamentary elections have to be held in Greece by July at the latest, Mitsotakis did not want to anger voters from the political centre, who do not want to know anything about the royal family. That is why Constantine II was buried as a private citizen.

At the same time, however, Mitsotakis allowed the funeral service to take place in Athens Cathedral, where all funerals of politically important personalities from the country take place. This satisfied at least some of the few remaining royalists in Greece.

The final burial was to take place at the summer palace of the former royal family in northern Athens. The graves of almost all of Constantine II's ancestors are located there.

Constantine II was the last king of Greece. When he ascended the throne in 1964 at the age of 23, he was one of the youngest monarchs in Europe.

The then inexperienced young man quickly became embroiled in disputes with the political leadership and made a politically fatal mistake when a military group staged a coup in Greece on April 21, 1967: he allowed himself to be photographed with the putschists and approved the formation of a military government by signature.

Many Greeks have never forgiven him for this. After the restoration of democracy, the monarchy in Greece was abolished in December 1974.

Constantine II died on January 10 at the age of 82. The former monarch's health had deteriorated abruptly after a stroke.

Prince Albert II of Monaco (R) arrives to attend the funeral of the former King of Greece, Constantine II, at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. Socrates Baltagiannis/dpa
Philip and Matilda of Belgium arrive at the funeral of the former King of Greece, Constantine II, at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. Raúl Terrel/EUROPA PRESS/dpa
King Felipe of Spain (L) and Queen Letizia arrive at the funeral of the former King of Greece, Constantine II, at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. Raúl Terrel/EUROPA PRESS/dpa
Anne, Princess Royal of England (C) arrives at the funeral of the former King of Greece, Constantine II, at the Metropolitan Cathedral of Athens. Raúl Terrel/EUROPA PRESS/dpa

Putin spokesman denies blame for deadly apartment bombings in Ukraine

People watch as rescuers search for survivors at an apartment block hit by Russian rockets during a massive missile attack on Dnipro. -/Ukrinform/dpa

The Kremlin has rejected blame for dozens of civilian deaths after missiles attacks destroyed an apartment block in the central Ukrainian city of Dnipro.

"Russia's armed forces are not attacking residential buildings or objects of civilian infrastructure," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday, according to the Russian state news agency.

The attack on Dnipro, in the Dnipropetrovsk region, was the largest of several Russian attacks over the weekend. At least 40 people were killed, including at least three children, Ukrainian authorities said as of noon on Monday.

Dozens more people remain missing in the rubble in sub-freezing weather.

Despite Moscow's claims that it has only attacking military targets, Russian shells have repeatedly killed many civilians throughout the Russian invasion which was first launched in February of last year.

Peskov, the Kremlin spokesman, placed blame for the "tragedy" over the weekend on Ukraine's air defences and contended that comments from Ukrainian officials themselves supported that claim.

Peskov was apparently alluding to remarks by Oleksii Arestovych, an advisor in the Ukrainian presidential office, who said in a live online broadcast shortly after the attacks on Saturday that the missile "was shot down and fell on the entrance to the building."

Arestovych, however, later said he was only speculating about a potential version of events that had not yet been investigated.

The Ukrainian Air Force has stated that it was in no position to intercept missiles of the type that struck the apartment block.

Peskov on Monday also criticized Britain's announcement that it would provide Ukraine with 14 Challenger 2 main battle tanks for its war effort.

"We take it very negatively," Peskov said of the British decision.

Tens of thousands in Tel Aviv protest planned legal reforms

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in Tel Aviv against Israel's right-wing government under Benjamin Netanyahu.

The protests were mainly focused on legal reforms planned by Justice Minister Yariv Levin that will deliberately weaken the judicial system.

Saturday's demonstration was the largest so far against the new government that was sworn in at the end of December. Protests were also held in Haifa and Jerusalem.

The Tel Aviv rally, which drew some 80,000 people according to reports, began in the central square in front of the Habima National Theatre.

The demonstrators then marched through the streets chanting "democracy" and waving blue and white Israeli flags. One poster read, "the state is not your toy."

Netanyahu's government plans dramatic court reforms. Levin wants to make it possible for a majority in parliament to overrule the Supreme Court's decisions.

He also wants to change the composition of the body that appoints judges.

He has accused the Supreme Court of excessive interference in political decisions in the past.

On Thursday, Esther Hayut, the chief justice of the Supreme Court, warned of a "fatal blow" to judicial independence in an uncharacteristically sharply-worded speech.

She said the planned reforms would completely distort Israel's democratic identity. Levin accused her of siding with the opposition.

Israel's far-right national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, announced a crackdown on demonstrators at the beginning of the week.

Several of the ministers in Netanyahu's new religiously conservative Cabinet are ultra-nationalists and the government is the most far-right Israel has ever had.

Over 700 in custody after storming of Brazilian government buildings

A police officer escorts an arrested supporter of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after storming the government headquarters Palacio do Planalto. Angry Bolsonaro supporters had stormed yesterday the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Palacio do Planalto, the seat of government, causing significant damage to the buildings. Matheus Alves/dpa

More than 700 suspects are still in custody after radical supporters of far-right former president Jair Bolsonaro stormed Brazil's main government buildings on Sunday, and authorities are ramping up security measures to prevent further such riots.

The thousands of rioters who attacked Brazil's Congress, Supreme Court and presidential palace in Brasília refuse to acknowledge Bolsonaro's defeat to leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was sworn in as president a week ago.

The penitentiary administration of the capital district published the names of 763 arrested on Wednesday.

They had been detained both directly after the attacks and when a tent camp of Bolsonaro supporters was broken up outside the armed forces headquarters in the capital on Tuesday.

It was initially unclear whether the list that has now been published includes all the suspects who remain in custody.

In total, police had arrested at least 1,500 people. Several hundred people arrested directly during the riots were taken to various prisons, and around 1,200 Bolsonaro supporters from the protest camp were taken to the Federal Police Academy to have their personal details ascertained.

Afterwards, however, many people such as mothers of small children and elderly people were released.

Meanwhile authorities have ramped up security measures in Brasília to prevent potential further actions by Bolsonaro supporters.

"A repeat of the [January 8] events is out of the question," said the head of security in the capital district, Ricardo Cappelli, on Brazilian television on Wednesday.

In future, the entire police force would be mobilized in case of possible seditious acts, he said.

"The esplanade of the ministries is already closed to car traffic. There will be barriers, roadblocks and controls," Cappelli continued.

Bolsonaro supporters had called for a "mega-demonstration to regain power" in all state capitals of Brazil on Wednesday evening.

Meanwhile an overwhelming majority of Brazilians, 93%, condemn Sunday's attacks on the government sites in the capital, a survey by the Datafolha polling institute found.

Only 3% of those questioned supported the riots, according to the survey.

During the violence in Brasília, Bolsonaro's supporters ransacked the National Congress building before directing their rage toward the nearby Supreme Court and the presidential Planalto Palace. It took security forces several hours to regain control of the area.

Soldiers and security forces clear a camp of former Brazilian Jair Bolsonaro supporters in front of the army headquarters. Angry Bolsonaro supporters had stormed yesterday the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Palacio do Planalto, the seat of government, causing significant damage to the buildings. Marcello Casal/Agencia Brazil/dpa
A supporter of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro leaves a camp in front of the army headquarters. Angry Bolsonaro supporters had stormed yesterday the Congress, the Supreme Court and the Palacio do Planalto, the seat of government, causing significant damage to the buildings. Isabella Finholdt/dpa

Bolsonaro supporters storm Brazil's Congress and Supreme Court

Supporters of former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro who refuse to believe he lost last year's election stormed the National Congress building and other government sites in the capital Brasília on Sunday.

They smashed the windows on the façade of the Congress building and stormed through the entrance hall, as shown on Brazilian television channels.

Hundreds of protesters had earlier advanced onto the grounds of the parliament, tearing down road blocks and pushing past police officers to finally reach the roof of the building.

Police used pepper spray and stun grenades but were unable to stop the rampage of the radical supporters of the former far-right leader. Some sat at the desks of parliament members.

"All vandals will be found and punished," left-wing President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who has only been office for a week, said. "We will also find out who financed them."

By decree, Bolsonaro's successor ordered the federal government to take responsibility for public security in Brasília.

After the attack on Congress, Bolsonaro supporters moved to the Supreme Court. They broke windows there and entered the lobby, the news portal G1 reported. Later, they entered the Palácio do Planalto, the official workplace of the president, where they could be seen on television waving Brazilian flags running through hallways and offices.

The Supreme Court acted as a check on Bolsonaro's increasingly authoritarian rule during his four-year term and the judges were despised by his hardcore defenders.

Bolsonaro lost to Lula in the run-off election last October and left office at the turn of the year. He had never explicitly acknowledged his electoral defeat.

Radical Bolsonaro supporters had already protested repeatedly against Lula's victory after the election and called on the country's armed forces to stage a military coup.

Contrary to custom, Bolsonaro did not attend the inauguration of his successor Lula on New Year's Day and flew to the US with his family.

Lula was not in Brasília at the time of the attack. He had traveled to the city of Araraquara to get an update on the response to severe storms in the region.

"I condemn these anti-democratic acts, which must be urgently punished with the severity of the law," Senate President Rodrigo Pacheco wrote on Twitter.

"I spoke on the phone with the governor of the Federal District, Ibaneis Rocha, with whom I am in constant contact. The governor informed me that the entire police apparatus is focused on bringing the situation under control."

As blame began to be traded over the failure of law enforcement to prevent the pro-Bolsonaro riots, Rocha said on Twitter that the head of security for the capital, Anderson Torres, has been sacked.

"I have decided to dismiss the security minister of the Federal District and, at the same time, I have sent all the security forces to the streets to arrest and punish those responsible," Rocha wrote.

The head of Lula's ruling Workers' Party (PT) said Brasilia's governor was in part to blame for the attack.

"The government of the Federal District was irresponsible in the face of the invasion of Brasília and the National Congress," wrote Gleisi Hoffmann on Twitter "This was an announced crime against democracy, against the will of the voters and for other interests. The governor and his security minister, a supporter of Bolsonaro, are responsible for everything that is happening."

Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro clash with police officers in the capital. Supporters of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro have stormed the Congress and Supreme Court. Matheus Alves./dpa
Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro clash with law enforcement officers in the capital, who form a chain behind barriers and fire tear gas grenades at the demonstrators. Supporters of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro have stormed the Congress and Supreme Court. Matheus Alves/dpa
Supporters of former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro storm the Congress in the capital. Supporters of former Brazilian President Bolsonaro have stormed the Congress and Supreme Court. Matheus Alves./dpa

More than 30 gravestones damaged in Protestant cemetery in Jerusalem

Unknown vandals desecrated a Protestant cemetery in Jerusalem, damaging more than 30 gravestones, according to Israeli media reports.

Israeli radio reported considerable damage to the Zion cemetery on Wednesday, with gravestones damaged and crosses broken.

The Jerusalem Post, citing Jerusalem University College, reported that the perpetrators were two Jewish teenagers, saying the damage amounted to the equivalent of $99,700.

An Israeli police spokesman confirmed on Wednesday that an investigation was under way, but did not comment on the identity of the suspects.

A video shared on social media showed two figures throwing large stones at graves and overturning a cross.

The incident reportedly occurred on Sunday.

The cemetery, founded in 1848, also serves as a burial place for Jerusalem's German-speaking Protestant community. The German ambassador to Israel, Steffen Seibert, spoke on Twitter of "contemptible criminal behaviour" by the perpetrators. "I hope the police will investigate, find these guys and bring them to justice."

The desecrated graves included those of three Palestinian police officers and members of various Protestant congregations, according to media reports, including bishop Samuel Gobat, Jerusalem's second Protestant bishop. He had bought the land for the cemetery.

The cemetery has been desecrated before and there have been previous incidents of hostility towards Christians in Jerusalem.

A general view shows vandalized graves in a Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion. nknown vandals desecrated a Protestant cemetery in Jerusalem, damaging more than 30 gravestones, according to Israeli media reports. Saeed Qaq/APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa
A brought down cross lies in a Protestant cemetery on Mount Zion. nknown vandals desecrated a Protestant cemetery in Jerusalem, damaging more than 30 gravestones, according to Israeli media reports. Saeed Qaq/APA Images via ZUMA Press Wire/dpa

Brazil's Lula promises 'hope and reconstruction' in inaugural speech

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is welcomed to the National Congress by the numerous heads of state and government officials during his inauguration ceremony. Jens Büttner/dpa

Veteran leftist Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva took the oath of office on Sunday as Brazil's first democratically elected president to win three terms, with more than a dozen heads of states in attendance.

"My message today is one of hope and reconstruction," Lula said in his inaugural speech. "Democracy was the big winner of this election."

In a break from custom, his predecessor, the far-right nationalist Jair Bolsonaro, did not hand over the presidential sash to Lula, after the Bolsonaro travelled to the US state of Florida with his family on Friday.

Before the ceremony, Lula drove through the capital Brasília in an open Rolls Royce with his wife Janja and new Vice President Geraldo Alckmin and his wife. A large music festival with over 40 artists was set to follow the swearing-in.

Lula led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, at a time when his government profited from the raw materials boom and was able to lift millions of people out of poverty through major social programmes.

However, there was also widespread corruption and Lula was also sentenced to a lengthy prison term for corruption and money laundering, though the sentence was later overturned.

He beat Bolsonaro in a run-off election in October.

During Bolsonaro's term in office, relations with other countries were tense, as deforestation of the rainforest increased unchecked and the government was accused of contempt for human rights.

World powers view Brazil under Lula as a potential strategic political and economic partner. Brazil's enormous natural resources and large agricultural economy make it a big power in Latin America.

Lula has announced plans to strengthen environmental and climate protection, plus measures to combat a resurgence of hunger amid the country's economic slowdown and high inflation.

But the 77-year-old faces major challenges to achieving his inclusive agenda, first and foremost of which is Brazil's highly polarized politics. Bolsonaro's allies control both chamber of Congress.

Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is welcomed to the National Congress by the numerous heads of state and government officials during his inauguration ceremony. Jens Büttner/dpa
Brazilian President-elect Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) welcomes German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the National Congress among numerous heads of state and other guests of honor during his inauguration ceremony. Jens Büttner/dpa