Protest caravans in Brazil demand Bolsonaro ouster over pandemic

Brasília (AFP) –


Thousands of people on Saturday joined caravans in several Brazilian cities to demand the ouster of President Jair Bolsonaro over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

The protests, organized by leftist parties and organizations, saw some 500 vehicles parading along Brasilia's Esplanade of Ministries and blaring their horns, their windows painted with slogans like "Bolsonaro Out," "Impeachment Now" or "Vaccination for Everyone."

Similar protests involving hundreds of cars were seen in other cities, including Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo.

Brazil has the world's second-highest number of Covid-19 deaths -- more than 215,000 -- and its vaccination program has gotten off to a late and rocky start in a country where Bolsonaro long played down the severity of the pandemic.

The protesters also objected to the end in December of an emergency financial aid plan that had helped some 68 million Brazilians -- nearly one-third of the population -- cope with the devastating effects of the pandemic.

- 'Little flu' -

Bolsonaro, much like former US president Donald Trump, long minimized the gravity of the disease, calling it a "little flu," questioning the effectiveness of vaccines and recommending unproven alternatives.

He also criticized calls for social distancing, due to its economic impact, as well as the wearing of protective masks.

His government has faced mounting criticism over its mishandling of the crisis, including its belated rollout of a vaccination program, which began only this week, long after the rollout in many other countries.

Protests will continue on Sunday in major cities, but this time organized by right-wing groups that had supported Bolsonaro when he came to power in January 2019 but which have taken their distance from him over his handling of the pandemic.

A poll taken Wednesday and Thursday by the Instituto Datafolha showed Bolsonaro's approval rating dropping sharply to its lowest point in his two years in office.

The poll found only 31 percent of Brazilians saying the far-right president was doing a "good" or a "very good job," down from his high point of 37 percent in polls last August and December.

A second wave of coronavirus surging through the South American giant has claimed more than 1,000 lives a day, causing particular havoc in Manaus, the capital of Amazonas state, where intensive-care wards are at or above capacity and people have died, asphyxiated, when oxygen supplies ran out.