A far-right presidential candidate dubbed “Brazil’s Donald Trump” was left fighting for life after being stabbed in the street at a campaign rally.
Jair Bolsonaro, a controversial congressman considered the frontrunner ahead of next month’s national polls, was knifed amid a crowd in the city of Juiz de Fora.
“His internal wounds were grave and put the patient’s life at risk,” said doctor Luiz Henrique Borsato, who operated on the politician’s serious intestinal injuries.
Police in the southeastern state of Minas Gerais have arrested a man over the stabbing, which took place as Mr Bolsonaro was being held aloft on a supporter’s shoulders.
TV footage showed a knife being raised above the heads of the crowd and plunged into the candidate’s body, causing him to scream out in pain and fall backwards.
The attack on the 63-year-old was a dramatic twist in what was already Brazil’s most unpredictable election since the country’s return to democracy three decades ago.
Rival candidates called off campaigning on Friday amid fears that violence could flare as the nation celebrates Independence Day and political groups march in hundreds of cities.
Mr Bolsonaro has outraged many Brazilians with racist, sexist and homophobic comments, but he is leading the polls ahead of voting on 7 October.
Left-wing former president Luis Inacio Lula da Silva had been long-standing favourite but was jailed for corruption in April and is banned from running for office.
Mr Bolsonaro, a retired Army captain, is running as a hardline law-and-order candidate and has positioned himself as anti-establishment despite having spent nearly three decades in Congress.
His populist rhetoric, controversial views, and reliance on social media have prompted comparisons to the US president.
He has long called for a radical action on public security in Brazil, where more people are murdered than anywhere else in the world.
Mr Bolsonaro, whose trademark pose at rallies is a two-handed “guns up” gesture, has said he would encourage police to kill suspected drug gang members and other armed criminals with abandon.
He has openly praised Brazil’s former military dictatorship and suggested it should have killed more people.
In 2016, he was convicted of inciting the rape of a female politician and he has also been fined for insulting women, black people and homosexuals.
He once advocated beating gay children to “change their behaviour” as well as the forcible sterilisation of poor people, who he suggested were too uneducated to use birth control.
Under the country’s campaign laws, Mr Bolsonaro’s tiny coalition has been given almost no campaign time on government-regulated TV and radio slots.
It leaves him heavily reliant on social media and rallies around the country to drum up support, meaning his campaign could be jeopardised if he is unable to take to the streets.
He could take two months to fully recover from the stabbing and will spend at least a week in the hospital, according to Dr Borsato, who said the candidate was at risk of infection after his intestines were punctured
But the candidate’s son, Flavio Bolsonaro, said his father was conscious and predicted the attack would be a political boost.
“I just want to send a message to the thugs who tried to ruin the life of a family man, a guy who is the hope for millions of Brazilians: you just elected him president. He will win in the first round,” he said.
Flavio initially tweeted that his father’s wounds were “only superficial”, but later said: ”Unfortunately it was more serious than we had expected.
“He lost a lot of blood, arrived at the hospital with a [blood] pressure of 10/3, almost dead. His condition now seems stabilised. Pray, please!”
Federal police said it had officers escorting Mr Bolsonaro at the time of the knife attack and the “aggressor” was quickly arrested.
Authorities said it was not clear if the stabbing was politically motivated.
Police in Juiz de Fora named the suspect as Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, 40, and said he appeared to be ”mentally disturbed”.
“Our agents there said the attacker said he was ‘on a mission from God,”’ said Luis Boudens, president of the National Federation of Federal Police. “Their impression is that they were not dealing with a mentally stable person.”
Mr Oliveira was affiliated with the left-wing Socialism and Liberty Party between 2007 and 2014, confirmed the party, which condemned the violence.
Mr Bolsonaro’s election rivals have also expressed outrage over the stabbing.
Political violence is rampant in Brazil at the local level.
In the months before 2016 city council elections in Baixada Fluminense, a region that surrounds Rio de Janeiro, at least 13 politicians or candidates were murdered before ballots were cast.
Earlier this year, Marielle Franco, a Rio city councillor who was an outspoken critic of police violence against slum residents, was assassinated.
But violence against national political figures is rare, even in the extremely heated political climate that has engulfed Brazil in recent years.
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