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Bolsonaro supporters rally despite coronavirus

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Rio de Janeiro (AFP)

Hard-core supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro ignored coronavirus warnings Sunday to rally in Brazil's biggest cities, accusing Congress and the courts of hindering the far-right leader -- with some openly calling for a coup.

Hundreds of supporters gathered in Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, many wearing face-masks printed with messages such as "The virus are the scums in Congress."

Critics condemned the rallies as anti-democratic, in a country still haunted by memories of its military dictatorship (1964-1985) -- whose legacy Bolsonaro, a former army captain, openly admires.

But neither that nor warnings from the authorities to avoid large gatherings amid the coronavirus pandemic stopped Bolsonaro's most fervent backers from taking to the streets.

"This is a protest against Congress, because they don't let Bolsonaro govern. They veto everything," said demonstrator Rogerio Galhardo, 60, a businessman carrying a Brazilian flag.

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

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

Lawmakers have passed legislation to shift the power to decide how and when to spend that money to Congress.

Bolsonaro, who is not affiliated with any political party and has repeatedly sparred with Congress, argues the executive branch should retain that power.

But the dispute has turned into something bigger than just a budget battle, with some Bolsonaro backers openly calling for a new coup.

"The people call on the National Defense Council to stage a constitutional military intervention for 90 days," said a banner hanging from one of the four giant sound trucks at the Rio de Janeiro rally.

Bolsonaro had faced criticism for supporting the rallies. Opponents accused him of attacking the country's democratic institutions.

He ultimately discouraged people from attending -- not because of his critics, but because of coronavirus, which hit close to home when the president's communications chief and several others who were with him on a trip to the United States last week tested positive.

But that did not stop him from posting several videos of the rallies on his social media accounts.

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