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Brazil’s Bolsonaro gathers supporters in show of strength amid coup probe

FILE PHOTO: Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro leaves the Federal Police headquarters after testifying about the January 8 riots, in Brasilia, Brazil, October 18, 2023. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino/File Photo

By Leonardo Benassatto, Lais Morais and Ricardo Brito

SAO PAULO (Reuters) -Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gathered thousands of supporters on Sao Paulo’s iconic Paulista Avenue on Sunday to demonstrate political strength amid investigations that many believe could land him in jail.

The far-right former president, who called the rally after being targeted by a police raid earlier this month investigating an alleged coup attempt, spoke for about 20 minutes to defend himself while reminiscing about his 2019-2022 term.

He refrained from attacking old foes and the Supreme Court. Allies expressed concern before the event that any remarks against Brazilian authorities or institutions could get him into even hotter water.

Bolsonaro had his passport confiscated and was accused of editing a draft decree to overturn election results, pressuring military chiefs to join a coup attempt and plotting to jail a Supreme Court justice after his electoral loss to leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in 2022.

Supporters of Bolsonaro, a populist often likened to former U.S. President Donald Trump, invaded and ransacked Brazil’s presidential palace, Supreme Court and Congress calling for a military coup on Jan. 8, 2023, a week after Lula took office.

Bolsonaro on Sunday denied the accusations and said he was being “persecuted,” adding that the draft decree was based on the constitution. He also called for amnesty for people who took part in the Jan. 8 riot.

“A coup is putting tanks on the streets, weapons, conspiracy. That did not happen in Brazil,” Bolsonaro said. “What I want is pacification. To erase the past and find a way for us to live in peace.”

ISRAELI FLAGS

The far-right leader gave his speech on top of a truck surrounded by supporters dressed in green and yellow, many of whom also carried Israeli flags.

Lula is in the middle of a diplomatic spat with Israel over comments in which he likened Israel’s war in Gaza to the Nazi genocide during World War Two.

Bolsonaro, who said last week that the leftist president’s remarks were “criminal,” also unfurled an Israeli flag.

Allies expect Sunday’s demonstration to show that Bolsonaro, who is barred from running for office until 2030 for spreading election falsehoods and faces several other criminal probes, still holds political strength in deeply polarized Brazil.

“He is not dead, he is competitive and there can be no injustice,” said Congressman Marco Feliciano, a member of Bolsonaro’s Liberal Party, adding Brazil would “turn into chaos” if the former president were to be arrested.

Dozens of lawmakers and some state governors attended the rally, including Sao Paulo Governor Tarcisio de Freitas, who served as Bolsonaro’s infrastructure minister and is seen as a potential successor in Brazil’s right-wing politics.

“He wants to try to show his strength to the Supreme Court and remain politically viable, even if he gets arrested,” a source close to Bolsonaro said, comparing him to Lula, who spent 580 days in prison in 2018-2019 on corruption charges before having his sentence annulled.

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