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As virus count rises, Brazil’s political divisions spill out onto the streets

Paulo Cid Engineer, 55, who took part in one of these recent motorcycle rallies, said he viewed Mr Bolsonaro as a fundamentally honest leader who has been unfairly attacked by scientific institutions and the media.

“I admit that my indignation turned into emotion,” he said, recalling how he felt at a pro-government rally earlier this month in Rio de Janeiro. “I will be able to tell my children and grandchildren that I have taken my part in a movement in search of a better country.

The government has also been rocked by scandals unrelated to the pandemic.

The Estadão newspaper revealed in early May that Mr Bolsonaro’s administration had diverted hundreds of millions of dollars to questionable initiatives and purchases that strengthened the hand of key Allied lawmakers. One case involved the government’s purchase of tractors at a 259 percent mark-up.

A few days after the Estadão report, federal police served search warrants on the Ministry of the Environment as part of an investigation into a suspected plan to allow illegal timber exports from the Amazon.

Amid the bad news, Mr Bolsonaro kept a busy travel schedule, focusing on electorally important states in northeastern Brazil, where he highlighted investments in basic infrastructure and services.

The president’s main political rival, former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, has refrained from supporting the street protests. But Mr da Silva, who recently won court battles in a corruption case that restored his right to stand for election, clearly relishes the prospect of a popular confrontation against a besieged incumbent. Recent opinion polls show that Mr da Silva is narrowly ahead of Mr Bolsonaro in next year’s presidential election.

“When Bolsonaro takes to the streets, he needs thousands of police to protect him,” da Silva wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “Does he think I’m afraid of him?” I was born on the streets and have spent my entire political life on the streets.

Ernesto Londoño reported from São Paulo, Brazil, and Flávia Milhorance from Rio de Janeiro.

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