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Judge bars Bolsonaro govt from commemorating Brazil coup

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, pictured in 2018 talking to army general Luiz Eduardo Ramos Baptista Pereira, is an unabashed admirer of Brazil's former dictators
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, pictured in 2018 talking to army general Luiz Eduardo Ramos Baptista Pereira, is an unabashed admirer of Brazil's former dictators AFP/File
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Brasília (AFP)

A Brazilian judge barred President Jair Bolsonaro's government Friday from commemorating the 55th anniversary of the coup that established the military dictatorship -- an initiative that had sparked widespread anger.

Judge Ivani Silva da Luz said Sunday's planned celebration of the 1964 coup was not "compatible with the process of democratic reconstruction" promoted by the 1988 constitution and that commemorative dates must be approved by Congress.

Bolsonaro's order to the armed forces to mark the March 31 overthrow of President Joao Goulart has been widely criticized, with the attorney general's office on Wednesday calling on personnel to "abstain" from paying tribute to a regime that committed "serious human rights violations."

The far-right leader, whose approval rating plunged in March after a series of political scandals marred his first three months in office, had received little support outside his own ultraconservative Social Liberal Party (PSL) for his controversial idea.

Bolsonaro, an ex-paratrooper and unabashed admirer of Brazil´s former dictators, is the country's first president since democracy was restored in 1985 to publicly exalt the military regime, though he argues its rise to power was not a "coup."

At least 434 people were killed or disappeared in Brazil during the 21-year dictatorship, far fewer than the 30,000 deaths in Argentina and more than 3,200 in Chile during their respective periods of right-wing military rule.

- 'Folklore' -

But unlike its South American neighbors, Brazil has not prosecuted military officials for regime-era crimes under a 1979 amnesty law, ratified in 2010, leaving the events of the dark period unresolved.

As controversy grew Wednesday over his order to the defense forces, Bolsonaro issued a clarification, saying they should "remember" the coup, rather than commemorate it.

Friday's ruling may have little practical effect since several military units have already held events this week commemorating the coup.

Opposition to the celebrations among ordinary citizens has been growing, with calls on social media for street protests in several major cities, including Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, against the military dictatorship and to remember its victims on Sunday.

Since taking office, Bolsonaro has had fond words for military dictators in 1970s and 80s Latin America, such as Paraguayan Alfredo Stroessner (1954-1989) and Chile's Augusto Pinochet (1973-1990).

Scholars, however, have dismissed his and others attempts to legitimize the 1964 overthrow and the decades of military rule that followed.

"This always falls in the camp of folklore, the ridiculous, because the scientific evidence is indisputable," said Carlos Fico, a history professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

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