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Vaccine scandal: Thousands rally in Brazil to demand Bolsonaro's ouster

This image show protesters at a mass rally demanding the impeachment of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro for mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic which has killed 522,000 people in the country, Brasilia, on July 3, 2021. (Photo by AFP)

Thousands have taken to the streets in cities across Brazil, demanding that President Jair Bolsonaro be impeached over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed over half a million people in the country.

The demonstrations on Saturday followed reports to Congress highlighting irregularities in vaccine procurement by Bolsonaro’s government.

In more than a dozen state capitals across Brazil, protesters took to the streets in the morning as part of coordinated rallies that were scheduled to take place in 315 cities. Protest rallies were also organized for the afternoon in Brazil's biggest city of Sao Paulo.

In the capital city Brasilia, protesters gathered in front of the National Congress, calling on lawmakers to impeach Bolsonaro. They chanted, "Impeachment now" and "Out with Bolsonaro."

In Rio de Janeiro, thousands marched to the beat of drums and chanted “out with Bolsonaro!” as activists delivered fiery speeches from sound trucks.

A man held a large cardboard sign that read, “The people only take to the streets in the middle of a pandemic when the government is more dangerous than the virus.”

Bolsonaro is accused of corruption and mishandling the country’s health crisis. 

Supreme Court Justice Rosa Weber authorized on Friday the opening of an investigation into Bolsonaro's alleged involvement in a deal to procure 20 million untested coronavirus vaccines developed in India.

Evidence of bribery and corruption related to the vaccine deal has been presented before a Senate committee investigating the federal government's mishandling of the pandemic.

The Senate investigation has alleged some irregularities, with health ministry insiders and pro-Bolsonaro lawmakers allegedly seeking to fast-track and overpay for the Indian vaccine developed by Bharat Biotech.

Bolsonaro claims he has "no way of knowing what’s happening in the ministries.”

The scandal has triggered a tsunami of criticisms against the president.

Lawmakers and activists from all sides are calling for Bolsonaro's impeachment.

Bolsonaro has downplayed the severity of the coronavirus pandemic and railed against lockdowns, pushed unproven remedies for the deadly disease and sowed vaccine doubts, which critics say have resulted in over 500,000 COVID-19 deaths in Brazil.

On Wednesday, another impeachment request was filed against Bolsonaro -- the latest in over 100 similar filings that have gone unheeded by the speaker of the lower house of Congress.

“500,000 deaths. The solidarity, the mourning has made several political forces come together for a common goal, to stop the Bolsonaro government killing," said lawmaker Perpetua Almedia.  “[M]ore than 200,000 Brazilians could have been saved.”

“Every crime committed by the president is serious, but this one is even more serious because it involves lives,” said Joice Hasselmann, another member of Congress from Sao Paulo.

Hasselmann, who had initially supported Bolsonaro before having a fall-out with him in 2019, said, “Brazil can’t stand another year with Bolsonaro.”

Opposition forces believe the latest vaccine scandal has the potential to galvanize protests of the kind that led to the ouster of president Dilma Rousseff in 2016.

Brazil has the world's second-deadliest outbreak after the United States. India ranks third with 401,000 COVID-19 deaths. 

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