Berliner Tageblatt - Thousands rally for Brazil's Bolsonaro amid legal firestorm

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Thousands rally for Brazil's Bolsonaro amid legal firestorm
Thousands rally for Brazil's Bolsonaro amid legal firestorm / Photo: © AFP

Thousands rally for Brazil's Bolsonaro amid legal firestorm

Thousands of Brazilians poured into the streets of Sao Paulo on Sunday after ex-president Jair Bolsonaro called for a show of support as he faces accusations he plotted a coup to stay in power.

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Dressed in the green and yellow of Brazil's flag, which Bolsonaro claimed as a symbol while in office, an immense crowd of his supporters thronged Paulista Avenue, one of the main arteries in the country's economic capital.

Bolsonaro arrived waving the Israeli flag -- a rejection of President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's remarks comparing Israel's offensive in Gaza to the Holocaust -- before putting his hand to his chest for the national anthem.

The 68-year-old former army officer had urged his backers to attend a "peaceful rally in defense of the democratic rule of law" in the economic capital Sao Paulo which organizers hope will draw at least 500,000 people.

Bolsonaro has had his passport seized by police as he and his inner circle face scrutiny over plans to try to remain in power after he lost 2022 elections to Lula.

- 'Victim of persecution' -

The far-right former president Bolsonaro has denied the accusations and he refused to answer questions during a half-hour interrogation Thursday at federal police headquarters in Brasilia.

"Bolsonaro is an honest person, a victim of persecution," said 63-year-old builder Wilson Aseka, who travelled 700 kilometers (430 miles) from the state of Minas Gerais to attend the protest.

"It is important to support him, because he represents God, country and family," he added, repeating the former president's motto with a Brazilian flag hanging on his shoulders.

A week after Lula took office on January 1, 2023, thousands of Bolsonaro supporters stormed the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court, urging the military to intervene to overturn what they called a stolen election.

Bolsonaro, who was in the United States at the time, denies responsibility, and has even suggested the protesters were not really his supporters.

However, investigators allege months of anti-democratic maneuvers by Bolsonaro, from a plan to discredit Brazil's electronic voting system with a "disinformation" campaign ahead of the elections to "legitimize a military intervention" if he lost.

Police say Bolsonaro edited a draft presidential decree that would have declared a state of emergency, called new elections and ordered the arrest of Supreme Court Justice Alexandre de Moraes, the head of Brazil's Superior Electoral Tribunal.

They also released a video of a July 2022 meeting where a shouting, swearing Bolsonaro ordered cabinet ministers to help him discredit the election system.

- Test of support -

Bolsonaro, who led Brazil from 2019 to 2022, claims to be the victim of "persecution."

He is facing several other investigations, such as the falsification of Covid-19 vaccination certificates, or the alleged misappropriation of gifts received from other nations, such as jewelry offered by Saudi Arabia.

In June, the electoral tribunal barred Bolsonaro from running for office until 2030 over his attacks on the election system.

Nevertheless, Bolsonaro is still considered the leader of the opposition and is adored by his fervent supporters.

The protest on Sunday afternoon is seen as a litmus test of his support ahead of October municipal elections, in which his influence is expected to play a key role in the still-polarized nation.

"If there is a lot of support, he will be able to say that the people are with him. Otherwise, he will lose all legitimacy," Andre Rosa, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia, told AFP.

One of Bolsonaro's lawyers, Fabio Wajngarten, said Thursday that he hoped to see "500,000 to 700,000" demonstrators.

"I'm going there, for Brazil. It will be gigantic!" a lawmaker from Bolsonaro's party, Bia Kicis, wrote on X.