As Brazil surpasses 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, protests rage against President Jair Bolsonaro

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Anti-government protesters took to the streets in more than 20 cities in Brazil on Saturday as the country’s confirmed death toll from COVID-19 surpassed half a million – a tragedy many critics attribute to the attempt of President Jair Bolsonaro to downplay the disease.

Thousands of people gathered in downtown Rio de Janeiro, waving flags with slogans such as “Get out Bolsonaro. Government of hunger and unemployment”.

“Brazil is having a big setback. The country was an exemplary country for vaccination in the world. We have widely recognized institutions, but today we are in a sad situation, ”said Isabela Gouljor, a 20-year-old student who joined the protest in Rio.

Demonstrators protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and protesters say economic policies harm the interests of the poor and the working class on Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Saturday June 19, 2021. The death toll from COVID-19 in Brazil is expected to exceed the 500,000 dead mark on Saturday evening.  (AP Photo / Marcelo Chello)
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Demonstrators protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and protesters say economic policies harm the interests of the poor and the working class on Paulista Avenue in Sao Paulo, Brazil on Saturday June 19, 2021. The death toll from COVID-19 in Brazil is expected to exceed the 500,000 dead mark on Saturday evening. (AP Photo / Marcelo Chello)

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Other demonstrators put up posters saying: “500,000 dead. It’s his fault”, alluding to Bolsonaro.

Similar marches took place in at least 22 or 26 states of Brazil, as well as in the Federal District of Brasilia. They have been promoted by left-wing opposition parties who have been encouraged by the decline in Bolsonaro’s polls in the run-up to next year’s presidential race.

“Get out Bolsonaro, genocidal,” shouted protesters in Rio, some wearing T-shirts or masks bearing the image of former left-wing president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva – who leads Bolsonaro in some polls.

In São Paulo, demonstrators dropped red balloons in tribute to victims of the virus.

A woman wearing a protective mask holds a sign with a message that reads in Portuguese; "500,000, government of death" during a demonstration against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the coronavirus pandemic and economic policies that they say harm the interests of the poor and the working class, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Saturday, June 19 2021. Brazil is approaching an official COVID-19 500,000 dead, the second highest in the world.  (AP Photo / Bruna Prado)

A woman wearing a protective mask holds a sign with a message that reads in Portuguese; “500,000, government of death” during a demonstration against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic and economic policies which they say harm the interests of the poor and the working class in Rio de Janeiro. Janeiro, Brazil, Saturday June 19, 2021. Brazil is approaching an official death toll of 500,000 from COVID-19 – the second highest in the world. (AP Photo / Bruna Prado)

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Bolsonaro supporters have taken to the streets more often over the past month, largely because many agree with his rejection of restrictions meant to quell the coronavirus and the anger the lockdown measures have hurt businesses.

Critics say such messages, along with Bolsonaro’s promotion of refuted treatments such as hydroxychloroquine, have contributed to the rising death toll and a slow vaccination campaign that has completely inoculated less than 12% of the population. population. The country of some 213 million people records nearly 100,000 new infections and 2,000 deaths a day.

“For leftists, putting their supporters in the streets is a way of tiring Bolsonaro for the elections,” said Leandro Consentino, professor of political science at Insper, a university in Sao Paulo. “But at the same time, they are contradicting themselves and losing the talk of maintaining health care, because they are causing the same agglomerations as Bolsonaro.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a graduation ceremony at the Naval Academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, June 19, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  People gathered across the country on Saturday to protest Bolsonaro's handling of the pandemic and protesters for economic policies say they are harming the interests of the poor and the working class.  (AP Photo / Silvia Izquierdo)

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a graduation ceremony at the Naval Academy in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, June 19, 2021, amid the COVID-19 pandemic. People gathered across the country on Saturday to protest Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic and protesters for economic policies say they are harming the interests of the poor and the working class. (AP Photo / Silvia Izquierdo)

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Saturday’s marches came a week after Bolsonaro led a massive parade of motorcycle supporters in Sao Paulo, although his allies and enemies differ considerably on the size of the event.

“Bolsonaro must show that he maintains strong support to deliver a message of strength to those investigating his government’s actions in Congress,” Consentino said.

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