Bolsonaro turns Brazil’s bicentennial into campaign rally

APTOPIX_Brazil_Emperor's_Heart_99958 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro stands with a group of children during a ceremony to receive the reliquary containing the heart of Brazil's former emperor Dom Pedro I, at the Planalto Presidential Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. The heart arrived for display during the celebrations of Brazil's independence bicentennial on Sept. 7.
APTOPIX_Brazil_Emperor's_Heart_18231 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and his wife Michelle Bolsonaro stand together during the ceremony to receive the reliquary containing the heart of Brazil's former emperor Dom Pedro I, at the Planalto Presidential Palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Aug. 23, 2022. The heart arrived for display during the celebrations of Brazil's independence bicentennial on Sept. 7.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Army_26524 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, left, receives honors from military commanders during a ceremony marking Soldier's Day at Army headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.
Brazil_Elections_85132 Brazil's incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for re-election, greets supporters as he arrives to a gym to attend a podcast program in Sao Caetano do Sul, Sao Paulo state, Brazil, Friday, Aug. 26, 2022. General elections are set for Oct. 2.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Army_20165 Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro attends a ceremony marking Soldier's Day at Army headquarters in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, Aug. 25, 2022.
APTOPIX_Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_28734 President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters in Copacabana beach during the country's bicentennial independence celebrations, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_11906 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro points up during a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal in Brasília, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_96593 Posters of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro are displayed for sale during a military parade commemorating the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_80734 A supporter of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a military parade commemorating the bicentennial of the country's independence in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_79065 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro waves during a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal in Brasília, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. At left is his wife Michelle Bolsonaro and at right Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_38802 An opponent of President Jair Bolsonaro carries a poster showing him behind bars during a march in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. Brazil is celebrating the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_46843 Military personnel march during a parade commemorating the bicentennial of Brazil's independence from Portugal in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_52342 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro and his wife Michelle Bolsonaro arrive for a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal in Brasília, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_52929 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, right and Army Commander Gen. Marco Antônio Freire Gomes salute during a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal in Brasília, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_07881 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, second from left, and Portugal's President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, second from right, attend a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence in Brasília, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_57257 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro whispers in the ear of Defense Minister Paulo Sergio Nogueira during a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal in Brasília, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_65134 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, left, and businessman Luciano Hang attend the military parade commemorating the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_82384 Opponents of President Jair Bolsonaro march in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. Brazil is celebrating the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal.
APTOPIX_Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_11906 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro points up during a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal, in Brasília, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
APTOPIX_Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_80734 A supporter of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro attends a military parade commemorating the bicentennial of the country's independence in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
APTOPIX_Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_62662 An aerial acrobatic team flies over Copacabana beach during a military display and rally called by President Jair Bolsonaro to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal ,in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_44674 President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech to supporters in Copacabana beach during the independence bicentennial celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_15902 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters upon his arrival at a military display and rally to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_33085 A supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro displays an inflatable displaying former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva during a military parade commemorating the bicentennial of the country's independence, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022. Lula and Bolsonaro lead the polls ahead of Octobers presidential election.
APTOPIX_Brazil_Bicentennial_71939 Supporter of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, Dom Verneck, leader of the interventionist movement, uses a megaphone marked in Portuguese; "#1964 military intervention", in reference to the 1964 military coup, in front of the presidential palace, during a practice run by soldiers in preparations for the country's bicentennial celebrations, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Brazil celebrates the bicentenary of its independence on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_90883 A supporter of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro cheer prior to the start of a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_03037 A supporter of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro waits for the start of a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence, in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_70832 A supporter of President Jair Bolsonaro displays a Brazilian flag prior to the start of a military parade to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bicentennial_75977 A billboard towers over a running path with a message that reads in Portuguese; "It's Now or Never, September 7", in support of President Jair Bolsonaro's call to supporters to join in the bicentennial celebrations, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Brazil celebrates the bicentenary of its independence on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Brazil_Bicentennial_68788 An army paratrooper descends in front of the National Congress during a practice run in preparations for the country's bicentennial celebrations, in Brasilia, Brazil, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2022. Brazil celebrates the bicentenary of its independence on Wednesday, Sept. 7.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_46955 A supporter of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for a second term, attends a demonstration to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_46075 A supporter of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for a second term, attends a demonstration to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_06294 Supporters of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for a second term, attend a demonstration to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_13536 Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters upon his arrival to a military display and rally to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_51090 Opponents of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for a second term, protest against him during independence bicentennial celebrations in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_84540 A demonstrator holds a bowl with the word "Hunger" written in Portuguese during a protest against Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for a second term, during independence bicentennial celebrations in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_74710 President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters in Copacabana beach during the celebrations of the bicentennial of the country's independence in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_97942 President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech to supporters at Copacabana beach during the independence bicentennial celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_00534 Supports of President Jair Bolsonaro gather in Copacabana beach during the independence bicentennial celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_29702 President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters in Copacabana beach during the celebrations of the bicentennial of the country's independence in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_28734 President Jair Bolsonaro greets supporters in Copacabana beach during the celebrations of the bicentennial of the country's independence in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_69955 A child rides on the shoulders of his father during a military display and rally called by President Jair Bolsonaro to celebrate the bicentennial of the country's independence from Portugal, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_70382 A vendor hangs electoral merchandise of Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro, who is running for re-election, for sale during a campaign rally after a military parade commemorating the bicentennial of the country's independence in Brasilia, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
Brazil_Bolsonaro_Bicentennial_84998 President Jair Bolsonaro delivers a speech to supporters at Copacabana beach during the independence bicentennial celebrations in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022.
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BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro transformed the nation’s bicentennial Wednesday into a multi-city campaign event, but didn’t use his appearances to undermine the upcoming election as his opponents had feared.

Bolsonaro, who trails former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in polls before the Oct. 2 vote, drew tens of thousands of supporters to rallies in Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro. The armed forces put on military displays in the cities, with the president attending.

The far-right Bolsonaro has stacked his administration with military officers and repeatedly sought their support, most recently to cast doubt on the reliability of the nation’s electronic voting system, which raised fears his speeches on Independence Day would be filled with fresh attacks. The far-right nationalist held back from doing so, and instead focused on attacks on da Silva and his leftist Workers’ Party.

Bolsonaro compared da Silva to autocratic leftist leaders in Venezuela and Nicaragua and called Brazil’s former president “a gangster.”

“We will have a much better administration with us being elected, with the grace of God,” the president said in a speech in Rio.

His prior efforts to sow doubt about the voting system has prompted widespread concern among his opponents that he may follow former U.S. President Donald Trump ’s footsteps in rejecting election results.

Bolsonaro arrived at the military display in Brasilia accompanied by at least one of the business executives who allegedly participated in a private chat group that included comments favoring a possible coup and military involvement in politics, and who is being investigated by Federal Police for possibly financing anti-democratic acts.

The crowd, decked out in green and yellow, chanted against da Silva, who wants to return to the post he held in 2003-2010.

Later, da Silva said he had never used Independence Day for electoral ends.

“Brazil needs better luck. It needs a government that takes care of people. A person who talks about harmony, love, economic growth, industrialization, job creation, pay increases,” da Silva said. “Brazil needs love, not hatred.”

Other presidential candidates also criticized Bolsonaro’s electoral use of the country’s independence bicentennial, and party leaders have suggested they will take the case to electoral courts.

Speaking at a rally after the parade in Brasilia, Bolsonaro made no reference to Brazil’s struggle for independence and instead focused on his achievements while his supporters made clear they came to support their candidate.

“We came for democracy, we want a free country, with no corruption or robbing, we want a country with clean elections,” said farmer Marcelo Zanella, 46, who drove some 800 kilometers (496 miles) from the state of Tocantins.

Tens of thousands also gathered on Sao Paulo’s main downtown boulevard. Due to a downpour and the fact Bolsonaro wasn’t scheduled to appear, turnout was apparently smaller than last year’s.

Later, Bolsonaro attended another military display in Rio along Copacabana beach — where his supporters often hold demonstrations. It entailed rifle salutes, cannon fire, flyovers, paratroopers and warships anchored offshore. He delivered his speech from a sound truck, on the back of which a draped banner read: “CLEAN AND TRANSPARENT ELECTIONS.”

Bolsonaro, a former army captain and lawmaker for decades before winning the 2018 presidential election, has spent most of his first term locking horns with Supreme Court justices, some of whom are also top members of the electoral authority.

He has accused some judges of hamstringing his administration and favoring da Silva. That has effectively turned those figures and their institutions into enemies for Bolsonaro’s base.

When Bolsonaro launched his reelection bid July 24, he asked supporters for “one last” show of support on Independence Day.

Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo, said Bolsonaro needed to energize his campaign and reach out to undecided voters.

“He needed something new and failed to do that. Bolsonaro once more only spoke with his supporters, indeed many of them, and with that the window might be closing for other voters to join him,” Melo said.

Since his campaign began, Bolsonaro has softened his tone. In the southern city of Curitiba last week, he told supporters to lower a banner demanding a military coup.

Carlos Ranulfo de Melo, a political scientist at Federal University of Minas Gerais, said this likely reflects campaign strategy to avoid fiery rhetoric and instead focus on the improving economy.

“We will convince those who think differently from us, we will convince them of what is best for Brazil,” Bolsonaro told the crowd in Brasilia.

The president is known for off-the-cuff outbursts. At last year’s Independence Day rally, he pushed the country to the brink of an institutional crisis by proclaiming he would ignore rulings from a Supreme Court justice. He later backtracked, saying his comments came in the heat of the moment, and the boiling tension was reduced to a simmer.

In both speeches in Brasilia and Rio, he made a couple veiled critiques of the Supreme Court, which elicited boos from the crowd.

“The institutional wear-and-tear was present in his speech in Brasilia, but in a less explicit way than last year,” said Rafael Cortez, who oversees political risk at consultancy Tendencias Consultoria.

There had also been concerns about political violence, which didn’t materialize during the afternoon.

In Rio, it was a scene of adulation. Sound trucks blasted songs exalting Bolsonaro to a crowd packing multiple blocks of the beachside boulevard, spilling onto the sand and down to the waterline. Motorboats and jet skis floated just offshore. When the first paratroopers started gliding down, one group began chanting, “Legend!”, a nickname for the president.

“I came to honor my president,” said Myleni Lima, 50, from the city’s west zone. “I’m going to reeelect him, me and the Brazilian people.”

___ Savarese reported from Sao Paulo. Associated Press journalists Diane Jeantet and David Biller Jeantet in Rio de Janeiro contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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