BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro urged his supporters on Monday to put off their protests against the country’s Supreme Court next weekend after counter-demonstrations triggered violent clashes on Sunday.
“Leave things alone on Sunday,” the right-wing president said, referring to the protests. He spoke at the gates of his official residence the day after he greeted supporters on horseback at a rally against the top court.
Bolsonaro’s critics say he has undermined democracy by endorsing almost weekly protests against the top court, which authorized an investigation into the president for allegedly interfering with police appointments for personal motives.
The judge heading that probe compared Bolsonaro’s approach to Hitler’s Germany.
Some leftist opposition parties have sought to impeach Bolsonaro. But the speaker of the lower house of Congress, Rodrigo Maia, who would decide whether to open impeachment proceedings, said now was not the time to “add more wood to the fire.”
Maia said during an online event he would decide on impeachment requests at “the appropriate time” but Brazil needed to focus on uniting to fight an accelerating coronavirus pandemic to save lives and jobs.
In rallies in Brasilia, Sao Paulo and other big cities on Sunday, militant Bolsonaro supporters urged the military to intervene and close down Congress and the Supreme Court.
Anti-Bolsonaro demonstrators protesting against what they called “fascism” clashed with police in a counter-demonstration on Sao Paulo’s main avenue, hurling stones at riot police who responded with tear gas.
Bolsonaro said he had no role in organizing the protests against the Supreme Court. “I don’t coordinate anything … I just attend,” he said.
The confrontation between Bolsonaro and the court thrust Brazil into a political crisis in the midst of the world’s second worst outbreak of coronavirus that has paralyzed Latin America’s largest economy and raised fears of a military coup.
In a newspaper interview published on Monday, Vice President Hamilton Mourao, a retired army general, said there was no danger of a coup. But he urged the country’s institutions to allow the democratically elected Bolsonaro to govern.
“Let the guy govern! If he makes mistakes, as others have in the past, there are elections in 2022 and he will be judged by voters,” the vice president told newspaper Valor Economico.
(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu, Maria Carolina Marcello and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Richard Chang and David Gregorio)