Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has defended his participation in a public protest against coronavirus lockdown measures, saying that he was not calling for military action against the country’s other branches of government.
Sunday’s protest, which was held in Brasilia outside the army’s headquarters, gathered dozens of Bolsonaro supporters wearing the country’s emblematic yellow and green. Large signs, including one reading “military intervention with Bolsonaro in power,” were visible in a livestream of the event posted to the president’s personal Facebook page.
In the video, Bolsonaro can be seen at the rally without a mask waving at the crowd and coughing at times. “I’m here because I believe in you. You are here because you believe in Brazil,” Bolsonaro said during the live stream, while standing on top of a white pickup truck.
The rally was a protest against quarantine measures imposed by some state governors, Bolsonaro said at a press conference on Monday outside the Alvorada presidential residence in Brasilia.
The state of Sao Paulo, Brazil’s financial capital and the state worst-hit by Covid-19, has extended quarantine measures until May 10 for commerce, schools and all nonessential businesses. In Rio de Janeiro state, quarantine measures are set to remain in place through April 30.
Bolsonaro told reporters that he never encouraged military intervention and that his support of the protest had been misinterpreted.
“I respect the Supreme Court, I respect the Congress – but I am entitled to my opinions and some people can’t just interpret anything I say as an act of aggression,” Bolsonaro told reporters and supporters. “Usually, when people are conspiring against someone it’s to reach a position of power. I’m already in power. I’m already the president.”
Anyone carrying “anti-democratic signs” was an exception, he suggested. “In any given march, there are people who will infiltrate. People have a right to freedom of speech,” Bolsonaro said. “I didn’t say anything against any other power of government, quite the contrary. We want to return to work. That is what the people want.”
But critics have called for further investigation into those who appeared to be calling for a return to a military dictatorship, which ruled Brazil from 1964-1985.
Supreme Court President Dias Toffoli called any attack against Brazil’s democracy and its institutions as “nefarious” during a teleconference event Monday, CNN Brasil reported.
Rodrigo Maia, the president of Brazil’s Lower House of Congress, wrote on Twitter that the “whole world is working together in the fight against coronavirus. In Brazil, we have to fight against corona and authoritarianism. It’s harder work, but we will prevail. In the name of the Lower House of Congress I condemn any act that defends dictatorship or acts against the Constitution.”
Brazil has more than 40,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and at least 2,575 deaths, according to a Health Ministry update.
Bolsonaro has said that he expects 70% of Brazil’s population to become infected and that the quarantine measures imposed by governors in some of the hardest-hit states, like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, are not working.
“I hope this is the last week of this quarantine,” Bolsonaro said. “The masses can’t afford to stay home because the refrigerator is empty.”
CNN’s Shasta Darlington in Sao Paulo and CNN’s Jackie Castillo in Atlanta contributed to this report.