Brazil's Bolsonaro leads motorbike parade despite pandemic

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) –

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Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro led a motorbike rally through Rio de Janeiro on Sunday as throngs gathered amid the coronavirus pandemic to cheer him on.

The far-right leader was accompanied by a substantial security detail at the head of several thousand motorbikes that was screened live on the president's official Facebook page.

The parade comes as Bolsonaro has tried to galvanize his support base at a time when his popularity has sunk to its lowest since he took over the presidency in January 2019, and with the latest opinion polls putting him behind ex-president Lula ahead of next year's election.

A Senate commission is investigating his pandemic management with 450,000 people having died of Covid-19.

Sunday's rally started at the 2016 Rio Olympic Park and lasted an hour and half while heading along the city's most iconic beaches, Ipanema and Copacabana.

Supporters lining the route cheered on the president and waved Brazilian flags.

On Friday, Bolsonaro was fined by a northeastern state government "for the promotion in Maranhao of gatherings with no sanitary safeguards."

Bolsonaro had handed out rural property titles in front of throngs of maskless people at an event in a town in Maranhao state, where gatherings of more than 100 people are banned.

Bolsonaro's office has two weeks ot appeal, after which the amount of the fine will be set.

At the end of April, Bolsonaro said he was waiting for "a sign from the people" to put an end to the pandemic restrictions taken locally by mayors and governors to try to slow the virus spread, insinuating that he could even deploy the army.

Since then, pro-Bolsonaro demonstrations have taken place every weekend with no hint of social distancing.

The president has been milking the attention, even appearing on horseback at a demonstration by farmers in the capital Brasilia.