Thousands protest against Brazilian president’s handling of pandemic

Jair Bolsonaro has faced demonstrations in cities including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Brazil protester
Brazil protester

Thousands of Brazilians have taken to the streets to call for the impeachment of President Jair Bolsonaro, who is under fire for his government’s handling of Covid-19.

The virus has raged through the country and claimed more than 216,000 lives.

Horn-honking cars paraded through the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and a dozen or more other cities, while other protesters marched on foot.

Brazil Protest
Demonstrators have hit out at Mr Bolsonaro’s response the crisis (AP)

The protests on Sunday were called by conservative groups previously supportive of the president. Protests which took place on Saturday had been led by groups on the left.

Meg Fernandes, a 66-year-old engineer who joined a protest in Rio on Sunday, said: “When Bolsonaro arrived, we voted for him for his proposals that we found interesting, but the situation now with the pandemic is terrible.”

She said she was especially alarmed by the situation in the northern city of Manaus, where there is a waiting list for hospital intensive-care beds and a shortage of medical oxygen.

“I had already been disappointed last year, but now with the situation in Manaus, I think (this government) has to stop,” she said. “Bye, Bolsonaro.”

Protest in Brazil
A sign in Portuguese, translating to: ‘Impeachment now!’ (AP)

Thomaz Favaro, a political analyst at consultancy Control Risks, said Mr Bolsonaro faces little risk of impeachment, though that could change if his allies lose a February 2 vote for leadership of the lower house.

“Bolsonaro’s base in congress is unstable, but it is robust,” he said, though it could be dented by the president’s flagging popularity.

But Mr Favaro said impeachment would be “a nuclear option that changes the country’s political trajectory”.

Mr Bolsonaro – who is midway through his four-year term – has faced renewed criticism in recent weeks for both the crisis in Manaus and for delays in launching Brazil’s immunisation campaign against Covid-19.

Coronavirus graphic
(PA Graphics)

The president has long resisted lockdown measures against the new coronavirus, arguing economic damage would be worse than the disease.

Brazil’s prosecutor-general, Augusto Aras, has asked the supreme court to open an investigation into health minister Eduardo Pazuello over the crisis in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state.

Mr Aras cited a document that said the ministry knew of a possible shortage of oxygen on January 8, but did not start sending extra supplies until January 12.

A newly released Datafolha survey from January 20-21 showed support for Mr Bolsonaro fell to 37% from 31% in December, the biggest one-month drop since the start of his administration.

The number rating his performance as bad rose to 40% from 32%. The margin of error was two percentage points.

Protest in Brazil
Protests took place in several cities across the country (AP)

The weekend’s demonstrations came as calls for Mr Bolsonaro’s impeachment rise, though most analysts consider this is unlikely to occur.

Carlos Ayres Britto, former president of the Brazilian court, former presidential candidate Ciro Gomes and even singer Chico Buarque have called for the president to face impeachment for his response to the pandemic.

A leading newspaper, O Estado de Sao Paulo, also published an editorial calling for impeachment on Friday.

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