Protesters have taken to the streets across Brazil to protest against far-right President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 459,000 people in the South American nation.
Bolsonaro has been widely criticised for downplaying the risks of the coronavirus and eschewing public health measures, such as lockdowns and curfews.
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A Brazilian Senate commission is conducting an investigation into his government’s coronavirus policies, including whether it failed to secure COVID-19 vaccines, touted unproven drugs, and pressured local leaders who sought to impose health restrictions.
Holding signs reading “Bolsonaro out” and “Impeachment now”, protesters rallied in at least 16 Brazilian cities and towns on Saturday to demand his resignation, including Salvador, Belo Horizonte, and the capital, Brasilia.
“We must stop this government. We must say ‘enough is enough,'” businessman Omar Silveira told the AFP news agency at a rally in Rio de Janeiro that drew approximately 10,000 people.
Reporting from Rio, Al Jazeera’s Monica Yanakiew said many demonstrators had turned out despite earlier concerns over holding large public protests during the pandemic.
“It came to a point where now they say we really have to go out and show that there is an opposition to Bolsonaro’s government,” said Yanakiew, adding that left-wing parties and civil society organisations were also present.
“[They are] chanting about everything, even about Palestine – basically they’re asking for Bolsonaro’s impeachment and they’re asking for more vaccines and for public health and public education,” she said.
“The common denominator is they want Bolsonaro out.”
Bolsonaro has remained defiant despite the criticism, however, and he continues to reject coronavirus-related restrictions.
Last weekend, he joined thousands of his supporters in a motorcycle rally through Rio de Janeiro and promised not to impose a national lockdown.
“Without any scientific proof, governors and mayors have imposed confinement or curfews … We are ready to take all the measures necessary to guarantee your freedom,” Bolsonaro said on May 23.
But recent polls show the former army captain’s approval rating is dropping – Datafolha recently said 45 percent of Brazilians said his government is “bad” or “terrible” – and he could face a stiff challenge from ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in next year’s presidential elections.
While Lula, who served as president from 2003 to 2011, has not confirmed he intends to run, recent surveys show that he would beat Bolsonaro if he does.
A Brazilian Supreme Court judge opened the door for Lula’s return to politics in March when he threw out corruption convictions against the Workers’ Party leader. The top court later upheld that decision.
Lula slammed Bolsonaro in March for his handling of the pandemic, saying “Brazil will not withstand it if this man continues to govern in this way”.