BRASILIA • President Jair Bolsonaro has increased his attacks on perceived enemies, including the Supreme Court and the electoral system, vowing to defend supporters' "freedom" as Brazil marked its Independence Day with rival pro-and anti-government rallies.
Throngs of Bolsonaro supporters flooded the streets with the green, yellow and blue of the national flag in Brasilia, Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and other cities on Tuesday, holding mass prayer sessions and chanting slogans in support of the embattled far-right leader.
Shouting "Get out, Bolsonaro!", opposition protesters held their own rival rallies, an opening salvo ahead of elections in October next year that polls currently place the President on track to lose.
The biggest rally was in Sao Paulo, where Bolsonaro supporters turned the Avenida Paulista into a sea of green and yellow. Sao Paulo public security officials estimated the turnout at 140,000 people for the pro-Bolsonaro rally and 15,000 for the anti-Bolsonaro march several kilometres away.
Mr Bolsonaro, whose popularity is at an all-time low, is seeking to fire up his base in the face of a flagging economy and a series of investigations targeting him and his inner circle.
He warned his backers that their "democracy" and "freedom" were under threat by the powers that be in Brasilia. "As of today, we're going to start writing a new history here in Brazil," he told the rally in the capital, where he kicked the day off with a flag-raising ceremony and air force flyover.
With hardline backers urging a military intervention to give Mr Bolsonaro unfettered power, there had been fears that the day could turn violent, with echoes of the Jan 6 attack on the United States Capitol by supporters of former president Donald Trump, to whom Mr Bolsonaro is often compared.
Police reported few incidents, though Bolsonaro supporters harassed journalists covering the rallies in Brasilia and Sao Paulo, and tore down a police barricade in the capital on Monday night.
Mr Bolsonaro doubled down on his attacks on Brazil's electronic voting system, telling a massive crowd in Sao Paulo that he refused to take part in an election "farce".
"We want clean, democratic elections... I can't participate in a farce like the one being sponsored by the Superior Electoral Tribunal," he said. "Only God can remove me. I'm only coming out of this jailed, dead or victorious."
Mr Bolsonaro also renewed his attacks on the Supreme Court, which has notably ordered an investigation into him and his inner circle over allegations of systematically spreading fake news from within the government.
The President additionally faces a Senate inquiry into his government's controversial handling of Covid-19.