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Brazil’s Bolsonaro slams election ban as thousands rally behind him

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Sao Paulo, Brazil – Thousands of Brazilians poured into the streets of Sao Paulo on Sunday as ex-president Jair Bolsonaro flexed his political muscle and hit out at an election ban that has seen him barred from seeking office for eight years.

Addressing a massive crowd of supporters in the economic capital, Bolsonaro again denied charges he plotted a coup to stay in power after losing an election in October 2022.

“What is a coup? Tanks in the streets, weapons, conspiracy. None of that happened in Brazil,” said Bolsonaro, who has had his passport seized by police as he and his inner circle are investigated.

“We cannot accept that an authority can eliminate whoever it may be from the political scene, unless it is for a fair reason,” he said.

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

Bolsonaro also called for “an amnesty for those poor wretched souls who are imprisoned in Brasilia” after the invasion of the presidential palace, Congress and Supreme Court in January 2023 by his followers, who demanded the military intervene in what they said had been a stolen election.

The 68-year-old former army officer called Sunday’s protest for a show of support as his legal woes pile up a little over a year since he left office after losing a deeply divisive election to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

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

The former leader reiterated that he was being “persecuted” after his 2019-2022 rule.

“I’m looking for pacification, to erase the past and find a way for us to live in peace,” he said.

– ‘Hour of Truth’ –

On February 8, investigators launched “Operation Tempus Veritatis” — “Hour of Truth,” in Latin — in which police carried out dozens of search and seizure raids and arrested several Bolsonaro allies.

Investigators allege months of anti-democratic maneuvers by Bolsonaro, including 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.

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.

Gleisi Hoffmann, the president of Lula’s Workers’ Party (PT), wrote on X that the rally was “one more threat from Bolsonaro to the institutions and a challenge to the judiciary, to which he is close to having to be held accountable.”

– Still adored by supporters –

Bolsonaro 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.

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

“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.

The protest on Sunday afternoon had been 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.

Bolsonaro and his supporters also waved Israeli flags at the protest, in a rejection of Lula’s recent remarks comparing Israel’s offensive in Gaza to the Holocaust.

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