June 1, 2020 / 4:27 PM / a month ago

Bolsonaro tries to rein in backers as protests shake Brazil

BRASILIA, June 1 (Reuters) - Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro told his supporters on Monday they should 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, 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 blame him for undermining Brazil’s 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 said the way Bolsonaro was endangering democracy was comparable to Hitler’s Germany.

In rallies in Brasilia, Sao Paulo and other big cities on Sunday, his supporters urged the military to intervene and close down Congress and the Supreme Court.

Anti-Bolsonaro demonstrators protesting against what they said was “fascism” threatening Brazil’s democratic system 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 the country.

“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 Valor Economico. (Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu and Anthony Boadle; Editing by Richard Chang)

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