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Brazil’s former president Bolsonaro denies coup attempt as he addresses huge rally

Bolsonaro calls for an amnesty for the ‘poor wretched souls’ imprisoned following attack on presidential palace

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Monday 26 February 2024 04:37 GMT
Related: Bolsonaro supporters storm presidential palace

Former Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has denied inciting a coup after losing the presidential election in October 2022.

The far-right leader told hundreds of thousands of supporters at a rally on Sunday that the allegations against him were a "lie" as he flexed his political muscle to hit out against the ruling government.

Supporters of Mr Bolsonaro thronged Brazil's biggest city on Sunday, donning the colours of the Brazilian flag, to defend the former president against legal challenges that could send him to jail.

Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro thronged streets of Sao Pa ulo (AP)

"What is a coup? Tanks in the streets, weapons, conspiracy. None of that happened in Brazil," Mr Bolsonaro told an estimated crowd of 185,000 people that filled blocks of Sao Paulo.

Mr Bolsonaro waved an Israeli flag along with his supporters in a show of defiance to the current president.

He is seeking to show his base is resilient amid a federal investigation over his alleged role in the 8 January 2023 attacks on government buildings by his supporters over his election loss, an incident widely compared at the time to the 6 January attack on the US Capitol. Mr Bolsonaro has himself drawn comparisons with the former US president Donald Trump.

Mr Bolsonaro has been barred from running for office until 2030 due to two convictions of abuse of power, but he remains active as the main opposition leader.

He has also had his passport seized by law enforcement and his inner circle, including his son, investigated.

"We cannot accept that an authority can eliminate whoever it may be from the political scene, unless it is for a fair reason," the 68-year-old former army officer said.

He called for an amnesty for "those poor wretched souls who are imprisoned in Brasilia" after the attack on the presidential palace.

"What I seek is pacification, it is erasing the past," he said, adding: "We ask all 513 congressmen, 81 senators for a bill of amnesty so justice can be made in Brazil."

Protesters, supporters of Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, storm the Supreme Court building in Brasili (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Some of Mr Bolsonaro's allies aiming to challenge president Lula da Silva in the 2026 elections also attended, including influential governors Tarcisio de Freitas of Sao Paulo state and Romeu Zema of Minas Gerais state. But other key politicians and business executives who aligned with him during his 2019-2022 presidency did not show up.

Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, predicted the pro-Bolsonaro event would not help the former president's legal situation.

"The fact that Bolsonaro doesn't yield any power now reduces what he can do. Beforehand, we feared he could use the force of the armed forces. Now that is ruled out," Mr Melo told the Associated Press. "This new reality does not favour him with unpredictability and drama."

The event showed, though, that Bolsonaro's message still resonates with many Brazilians, some of whom evidently favour any coup attempt that would put him in charge. One man paraded wearing a military hat and shouted: "Brazil, nation, hail our forces. The armed forces didn't sleep!"

Federal investigators on 8 February launched "Operation Tempus Veritatis", which translates to 'Hour of Truth" in Latin, in which police carried out dozens of searches and arrested Mr Bolsonaro's allies.

Last Thursday, Mr Bolsonaro denied allegations and refused to answer questions during a half-hour interrogation at federal police headquarters in Brasilia.

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