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Brazil’s Bolsonaro seeks show of strength, risking backfire
Demonstrators by the thousands have started arriving in the central plaza of Brazil’s capital for Independence Day celebrations to support embattled President Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to issue an ultimatum to the Supreme Court.
BRASILIA – Thousands of demonstrators started arriving at the central plaza in Brazil's capital on Tuesday for Independence Day celebrations to support embattled President Jair Bolsonaro, who has vowed to issue an ultimatum to the Supreme Court.
Massive participation in rallies scheduled across the country would reinforce the right-wing leader's push to prove he is a strong candidate for reelection — despite slumping poll ratings — and recover momentum after a string of setbacks.
He also seeks support in his feud with the Supreme Court, which has been probing his allies for allegedly organizing anti-democratic acts and spreading false information.
But the demonstrations carry the risk of violence that could be perceived as stemming from the president's influence. Critics say they fear Bolsonaro could be preparing a tropical version of the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, where supporters of former President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol alleging he had been robbed of a reelection victory. Already, Bolsonaro has said he might reject 2022 election results if he loses.
Tens of thousands of people had already arrived in convoys of trucks and buses to Sao Paulo and the capital, Brasilia, where Bolsonaro was expected to speak at the two largest rallies.
The mood Monday at the Brasilia campsites was of anticipation, with bottles of beer passed around portable grills, but a general reluctance to speak with journalists reflected underlying tension.
On Monday evening, supporters broke through police lines set up to block vehicles and halt early pedestrian access to the capital’s central mall. Video on social media showed trucks advancing while blaring their horns as hundreds of people dressed in the national green-and-yellow colors walked alongside and cheered.
By morning, dozens of honking trucks were parked on the mall, where only pedestrians were supposed to be allowed. Regina Pontes, 53, stood atop a truck that advanced toward the police barriers preventing access to Congress and the Supreme Court.
“We just want to be in our home; You can’t close the door to keep the owner out,” she told The Associated Press.
She added Bolsonaro should depose all of the Supreme Court’s justices, and they be replaced with career public servants.
Security around the court was reinforced early Tuesday at its request, according to the press office of one of its justices, Luiz Fux.
Bolsonaro's government has been beset by crises that his critics say were at least somewhat self-inflicted. The nation’s COVID-19 death toll of more than 580,000 is the second highest in the world, and eighth highest on a per capita basis; a congressional investigation of the government’s response has produced a drumbeat of accusations of wrongdoing.
Inflation — traditionally the Brazilian boogeyman for presidential approval ratings — is approaching double-digits, with higher costs for mainstays like food, gasoline and electricity. And power prices are expected to rise more due to dwindling hydroelectric reservoir levels that were ignored for months. There may be energy rationing in store, further hamstringing any economic rebound.