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Brazil's chaotic Covid response sets up epic clash as Lula re-enters politics


Ex-president Lula

Ex-president Lula

Ex-president Lula

As Brazil's hard-right president addressed the nation last week with an attack on his rivals, keen-eyed observers would have noticed a strategically placed globe on his desk.

Broadcast on Facebook, Jair Bolsonaro attacked the country's former left-wing leader, Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva, who was cleared by a court to return to politics.

The addition of the globe was a direct response to claims in Lula's comeback speech that Mr Bolsonaro believed the Earth was flat.

Mr Bolsonaro has been condemned during his two years at the helm of Latin America's biggest economy for climate change denial and Covid scepticism.

The country is now gripped by one of the world's worst coronavirus crises. Hospitals are strained and death toll records are broken daily, while restrictions are loose.

A Supreme Court decision quashed Lula's corruption convictions and reinstated his political rights, setting up a showdown between the leftist icon and Mr Bolsonaro in next year's presidential election.

Lula, who served as president between 2002 and 2010, gave a widely praised speech, reinforcing the importance of vaccination and social distancing to help curb Brazil's Covid-19 crisis. Criticising Mr Bolsonaro's catastrophic pandemic response, the former president claimed Brazil "has no government".

In response to Lula's attacks, Mr Bolsonaro feigned an about-turn on his pandemic stance, claiming he had never called Covid-19 a "little flu" and had not cast doubt over the efficacy of vaccines.

In his Facebook live-stream, he barked back at Lula. "That sack of meat said yesterday that I should speak to [science minister] Marcos Pontes, who has been to space, and ask him if the Earth is round. Look at the quality of my science minister and that criminal's cabinet and then we'll talk."

With 19 months to go until the election, Brazil expects a fiery and polarised contest between the country's two most popular political figures.

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