Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro gathered in major cities on Tuesday to back the far-right leader in his dispute with the Supreme Court, exacerbating a conflict that has rattled Latin America's largest democracy.
Bolsonaro has urged his supporters to turn out in record numbers, hoping for an overwhelming display to offset his slipping support in opinion polls and setbacks in his clash with the judiciary.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators dressed in the green and yellow of the Brazilian flag gathered early on the central mall of the capital Brasilia, where some heading toward the top court were met with police barriers and stun grenades.
Although vows from some demonstrators to invade the Supreme Court never materialized, hostility toward the judiciary and Congress were also on display at larger marches on Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana Beach and a major avenue in Sao Paulo.
"The military needs to remove those that aren't letting our president govern ‒ in the Supreme Court, in the Senate, all of them," said 70-year-old retiree Maria Aparecida, on Sao Paulo's Avenida Paulista. "The Supreme Court doesn't protect the constitution, so our military must."
The top court has authorized investigations of Bolsonaro and his allies, based on alleged attacks against Brazil's democratic institutions. Bolsonaro has derided the Supreme Court investigations of his allies as violations of political freedoms. The court probes prompted police to question an ex-adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump in Brasilia on Tuesday.
"From now on I won't accept one or two people acting outside the constitution," Bolsonaro told supporters on Tuesday morning, echoing his recent criticism of certain Supreme Court justices, before he donned the presidential sash and rode in an open Rolls Royce to a military event marking Independence Day.
Congress and the courts also resisted Bolsonaro's attempt to introduce paper voting receipts as a backup to an electronic voting system which he says is vulnerable to fraud. The electoral court maintains the system is transparent and safe.
'UNSAFE AND UNCERTAIN'
Bolsonaro's critics say he is sowing doubts so he can challenge the results of next year's election, which opinion polls now show him losing dramatically to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Neither has confirmed his candidacy.
Bolsonaro supporter Paulo Roberto Silva, a 55-year-old retired Air Force official at the march in Rio, said next year's election was "unsafe and uncertain" and suggested Bolsonaro should not accept the result if Lula wins.
Bolsonaro said on Friday the demonstrations will be an ultimatum to judges who had taken what he called "unconstitutional" decisions against his government.
The tensions between Bolsonaro and Brazil's highest court snagged U.S. allies on Tuesday, when Brazilian police questioned former Trump advisor and conservative social network entrepreneur Jason Miller for three hours.
A lawyer for Miller, who had attended Conservative Political Action Conference summit organized by one of Bolsonaro's sons, said he chose to remain silent.
After touring the march in Brasilia, the president departed on flight to Sao Paulo, where he was set to join a gathering of supporters that he has billed as the biggest political rally in Brazilian history.
Many leftist leaders have urged their followers to avoid clashes by skipping counter-demonstrations on Tuesday in favor of larger anti-Bolsonaro protests on Sept. 12. Still, some opposition groups went ahead with a downtown Sao Paulo march.
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