Rallies for and against Bolsonaro on Brazil's national day

By Valeria PACHECO
Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attend the flag-raising ceremony at Alvorada Palace, during the Independence Day celebrations in Brasilia. ©AFP

Brasília (AFP) - Tens of thousands of demonstrators flooded the streets in Brazil Tuesday in a show of support on independence day for President Jair Bolsonaro, who is locked in an all-out political battle with institutions including the Supreme Court.

Anti-Bolsonaro protesters also gathered for huge demonstrations in cities across the country, making the annual national day festivities a high-risk event, with just over a year to go to elections that polls currently put the far-right president on track to lose.

Bolsonaro, whose popularity is at an all-time low, is seeking to fire up his base and flex his political muscle in the face of a flagging economy, soaring unemployment and inflation, and a series of investigations targeting him and his inner circle.

With hardline supporters urging a military intervention to give Bolsonaro unfettered power, there are fears the day's rallies could turn violent, with echoes of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol in support of former president Donald Trump -- to whom Bolsonaro is often compared.

"This is a day for the Brazilian people, who will tell us which way to go," Bolsonaro said in brief comments outside the presidential residence, where he kicked off the day's events presiding over a flag-raising ceremony and military show of strength complete with Air Force flyover, paratroop landing and special forces display.

"Our country can't continue to be held hostage by one or two people," said the former army captain.

"I'm going to keep playing within the four lines (of the constitution).But from now on, I'm not going to let one or two other people play outside them."

That was an apparent reference to Supreme Court Justices Alexandre de Moraes and Luis Roberto Barroso, whom Bolsonaro accuses of attacking him and blocking his ability to govern.

Bolsonaro, 66, has declared all-out political war on both justices, including a request for Moraes to be impeached.

The Supreme Court has notably ordered an investigation of Bolsonaro and his inner circle over allegations of systematically spreading fake news from within the government.

The president also faces a Senate inquiry into his government's widely criticized handling of Covid-19, which has claimed more than 580,000 lives in Brazil, second only to the United States.

'Ultimatum'

Heavy security measures have been implemented in major cities including Brasilia and Sao Paulo to avoid clashes.If all goes according to plan, pro- and anti-Bolsonaro protesters will not cross paths.

Bolsonaro later took off for a helicopter flyover of the Esplanade of Ministries, where a large crowd of cheering, flag-waving supporters awaited him.

Security forces had set up a heavy cordon around the nearby square flanked by the presidential palace, Congress and the Supreme Court, where hundreds of pro-Bolsonaro demonstrators tore down a police blockade late Monday.

Bolsonaro plans to attend rallies in both Brasilia and economic capital Sao Paulo on Tuesday, which marks 199 years since Brazil declared independence from Portugal.

He has vowed to draw a crowd of more than two million to Sao Paulo's Avenida Paulista.

Bolsonaro said last week that the Supreme Court judges should consider the rallies an "ultimatum" -- the latest in a long list of ominous warnings aimed at Congress and the courts.

'Taking our freedom'

Security experts are concerned over the presence of armed military and police during the demonstrations -- two key groups of Bolsonaro backers.

With polls putting him on track to lose badly to leftist ex-leader Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in next year's elections, Bolsonaro is hoping to use the rally to energize his supporters.

"I'm here to fight for our freedom, to free Brazil from this filthy band of corrupt politicians on the Supreme Court who want to take away our freedom," one, 45-year-old security guard Marcio Souza, told AFP in Brasilia.

"We voted for President Bolsonaro but we're being governed by the Supreme Court," said another, dentist Morgana Barcelos Freitas, 27.

"He's not able to govern the country."


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