Macron hosts Brazil's Lula at French presidential palace in apparent dig at Bolsonaro

Macron waits to greet a guest at the Elysee palace (left) while Lula is pictured in Paris (right), on Nov 17, 2021. PHOTOS: REUTERS, AFP

PARIS (REUTERS) - President Emmanuel Macron hosted former Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva for a meeting at the Elysee palace on Wednesday (Nov 17), a rare honour signalling support for a rival of Brazil's far-right incumbent with whom the French leader has traded barbs.

Lula, a former union leader who led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, is expected to challenge far-right President Jair Bolsonaro, though neither has officially declared their candidacy.

In an official statement after the meeting at the French presidential palace, Macron's office said Lula had "shared his vision of Brazil's role in the world, noting how, over the past three years, Brazil has set itself aside of the multilateral system and major international agreements."

The statement appeared as a thinly-veiled dig at Bolsonaro, with whom Macron has been on the opposite side of many arguments, including enforcement of the Paris climate accord and the EU-Mercosur trade negotiations.

In Rome last month, videos from Group of 20 events showed Bolsonaro as an isolated figure, who was not part of the photo taken at the Trevi fountain with other world leaders.

Since taking office, Bolsonaro has railed against the enforcement of environmental regulations in Brazil, announced intentions to develop the Amazon region, questioned the severity of the coronavirus, shunned lockdowns, sowed vaccine doubts and pushed unproven cures.

In 2019, Bolsonaro mocked Macron's wife and accused him of disrespecting Brazil's sovereignty because of the French leader's criticism of deforestation. Macron called Bolsonaro a liar, adding Brazilian women were "probably ashamed" of him.

Lula holds a commanding double-digit lead in opinion polls over Bolsonaro, whose popularity has plummeted over his handling of the world's second-deadliest Covid-19 outbreak, high unemployment and rising inflation.

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