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Bolsonaro, supporters rally in Brazil despite coronavirus

·2 min read
Supporters of the Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro take part in a protest against the National Congress and the Supreme Court while wearing protective face masks to prevent the spread of the new Coronavirus, COVID-19, in Brasilia, on March 15, 2020 (AFP Photo/Sergio LIMA)

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and thousands of supporters ignored coronavirus warnings Sunday to hold rallies supporting the far-right leader and accusing Congress and the courts of obstructing him.

Despite his own health ministry's recommendation that he isolate himself for two weeks after being exposed to officials infected with COVID-19, Bolsonaro shook hands and took selfies at the rally in Brasilia, which gathered hundreds of people.

"What you people are doing is priceless," he said.

In all, thousands of supporters rallied in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other cities, ignoring health officials' advice to avoid large gatherings because of the pandemic.

Many wore face masks printed with messages such as "The virus are the scums in Congress."

The health ministry has recommended that Bolsonaro remain in isolation for two weeks, after several officials in his delegation tested positive for the coronavirus following a presidential trip to the United States -- where he met with President Donald Trump -- last week.

Trump has since been tested for the virus and reported a negative result.

Bolsonaro announced Friday on Facebook that he had tested negative, accompanying the news with a picture of himself making an obscene gesture.

But under health ministry protocol he needs two more tests to confirm the result, each seven days apart.

Bolsonaro was flanked by bodyguards as he worked the crowd, but was not wearing the face mask he sported last week before his test result came back.

Critics condemned the rallies as an attack on democracy. The country is still haunted by memories of atrocities committed by its military dictatorship (1964-1985) -- whose legacy the president, a former army captain, openly admires.

But neither that nor the coronavirus pandemic stopped Bolsonaro and his backers.

"This is a protest against Congress, because they don't let Bolsonaro govern," said Rogerio Galhardo, 60, a businessman who carried a Brazilian flag in the demonstration.

"All they want to do is steal," his wife, 45-year-old teacher Patricia Monteiro, told AFP.

Bolsonaro is locked in a dispute with Congress over 30 billion reals (around $6.2 billion) of discretionary spending in the federal budget.

Lawmakers want to shift the power over that money from the executive to Congress.

But the dispute has turned into something bigger, with some Bolsonaro backers openly calling for the dissolution of Congress so the president can govern alone.

A banner hanging from a giant sound truck at the Rio rally called for a "constitutional military intervention."