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Brazilian leader joins rally despite virus worries

2020-05-25 HKT 04:28
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  • Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters outside the presidential palace in the capital, Brasilia. Photo: Reuters
    Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters outside the presidential palace in the capital, Brasilia. Photo: Reuters
President Jair Bolsonaro hit the streets Sunday for a rally with his supporters, ditching his face mask and breaking social distancing measures even as coronavirus cases surged in Brazil.

The far-right president arrived at the rally outside the presidential palace in Brasilia in a white surgical mask, but soon took it off to greet the cheering crowd, shake hands and embrace supporters, at one point even hoisting a young boy onto his shoulders.

The rally came as Brazil emerged as a new flashpoint in the pandemic. With nearly 350,000 confirmed cases, Brazil now has the second-biggest caseload in the world, after the United States. It has registered more than 22,000 deaths.

Experts say under-testing means the real figures are likely far higher.

Bolsonaro has famously compared the virus to a "little flu" and argues that stay-at-home measures are unnecessarily hurting the economy.

He grinned as flag-waving supporters shouted "Legend!" and "The people support you, Bolsonaro!"

But although Bolsonaro has a solid core of support – about 30 percent of voters, according to recent polls – he faces mounting criticism for his handling of the coronavirus crisis, as well as a potentially explosive probe into whether he obstructed justice to protect his family from police investigations.

The probe took a shocking twist Friday when the Supreme Court judge who ordered it, Celso de Mello, released a video of an April 22 cabinet meeting that investigators have been analysing for evidence.

In the expletive-laced video, Bolsonaro and his ministers sling insults at state governors, talk of jailing Supreme Court judges and barely mention the coronavirus pandemic at a moment when it was snowballing in Brazil. (AFP)