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Brazil’s Bolsonaro still silent on election loss to Lula

Photo: Evaristo Sa / AFP

| By AFP | Fran Blandy and Joshua Howat Berger |

Brazil’s far-right President Jair Bolsonaro maintained an increasingly loud silence Monday after his election defeat, failing to acknowledge his loss to veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva — who faces a tough to-do list.

Twenty-four hours after the close of voting in Sunday’s deeply polarizing runoff election, Bolsonaro had still not recognized the outcome — raising fears he could try to challenge it, with potentially turbulent results for the country.

Charismatic but tarnished ex-president Lula defeated Bolsonaro by the narrowest margin in Brazil’s modern history — 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent — to return for an unprecedented third term at the helm of Latin America’s biggest economy from January 1.

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After a dirty, divisive campaign that left the country of 215 million people split in two, the 77-year-old leftist icon now faces a laundry list of challenges, including a struggling economy, rampant destruction of the Amazon rainforest, and a powerful and angry far-right.

But first, there is the giant question mark over whether Bolsonaro will accept defeat.

The far-right president has not spoken publicly or on his beloved social media accounts since the result was announced, after months of alleging fraud in the electoral system and a conspiracy against him.

The transition period got off to a tense start as pro-Bolsonaro truckers and protesters blocked highways in at least 11 states across the country Monday, burning tires and parking vehicles in the middle of the road to halt traffic.

Wearing the yellow and green of the Brazilian flag — which the outgoing president has adopted as his own — the protesters wielded pro-Bolsonaro signs and sang the national anthem, before gradually being broken up by the authorities.

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Markets were volatile, but reacted favorably overall to the election: after dipping slightly, stocks were up 1.3 percent in afternoon trading in Sao Paulo, and the Brazilian real gained more than two percent against the dollar.

Hope for climate fight

Lula, who vowed in his victory speech to restore Brazil’s damaged image on the international stage, started with phone calls with US President Joe Biden, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres and others, plus a meeting with Argentine President Alberto Fernandez in Sao Paulo, advisers said.

Biden and Lula “committed to continue working as partners to address common challenges, including combatting climate change, safeguarding food security, promoting inclusion and democracy, and managing regional migration,” the White House said.

There was meanwhile radio silence from Bolsonaro, whose absence sparked jokes online.

One meme that went viral earlier Monday featured a picture of a vaguely disoriented-looking Bolsonaro, with the caption, “Missing: elderly man, very talkative, has not been heard from in 12 hours.”

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First Lady Michelle Bolsonaro meanwhile denied swirling rumors of a post-election marital crisis, after she and her husband reportedly stopped following each other on social media.

AFP journalists said Bolsonaro left his official residence without comment Monday morning for the presidential offices, where he was photographed walking down a corridor with a grim face.

Officials there said the former army captain was meeting with cabinet ministers.

There are fears Bolsonaro, 67, could attempt a Brazilian version of the US Capitol riots which rocked that country after his political role model, former US president Donald Trump, refused to accept his election defeat in 2020.

But the Brazilian leader may find himself isolated.

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Some key Bolsonaro allies have publicly recognized his loss, including the powerful speaker of the lower house of Congress, Arthur Lira.

And international congratulations for Lula poured in from the US, China, India, France, Britain, South Africa and numerous others.

The European Union’s leadership voiced hope the result would lead to ratification of a trade deal with South American bloc Mercosur, long stalled over concerns about rampant deforestation in the Amazon under Bolsonaro.

Norway announced it would resume paying nearly $500 million in aid for protecting the world’s biggest rainforest, which it halted in 2019 over Bolsonaro’s policies.

“We had a head-on collision with Bolsonaro, whose approach was diametrically opposed (to Lula’s) when it came to deforestation,” Norwegian Environment Minister Espen Barth Eide told AFP.

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Deep divisions

Lula, who previously led Brazil from 2003 to 2010, criticized his nemesis Sunday night for not acknowledging the result.

“Anyplace else in the world, the defeated president would have called me to recognize his defeat,” he said in his victory speech to a euphoric sea of red-clad supporters in Sao Paulo.

The ex-metalworker, making his return from controversial, since-quashed corruption charges that sent him to prison for 18 months, vowed to work for “peace and unity” in the divided nation.

Easier said than done, according to political analysts.

“It was a very narrow victory (that left) half the population unhappy,” said political scientist Leandro Consentino of Insper university in Sao Paulo.

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“Lula will have to show a lot of political skill to pacify the country.”

International

Putin promotes deputy prison chief Amid Navalny’s death, opposition claims

Russian President Vladimir Putin promoted the deputy director of the prison service (FSIN) just three days after the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in an Arctic prison, according to his associates’ claims today.

“The deputy director of the FSIN, Valery Boyarinov, was promoted to the rank of colonel general of the Interior Services. The decree (…) was signed three days after the death in prison of politician Alexei Navalny,” his team wrote on Telegram.

Supporters of the deceased opposition figure claim that this decision is “a clear reward from Putin for the torture” of Navalny.

“Boyarinov personally coordinated the torture inflicted on Alexei Navalny in prison. The restrictions imposed on Navalny’s accounts so he could not buy food, along with the rest of the torture, were personally ordered by Boyarinov,” the team added.

Meanwhile, the Kremlin, which has consistently denied responsibility for the death of the Russian opposition leader, today described as “unfounded” and “coarse” the accusations of Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, that Putin murdered her husband.

“These are unfounded and gross accusations against the head of state,” said the spokesman for the Russian Presidency, Dmitry Peskov, in his daily telephone press briefing.

Peskov insisted that the accusations against the Russian leader “are not based on anything.”

At the same time, he stated that he did not want to make any further comments for “ethical reasons,” as Navalnaya “became a widow a few days ago.”

In any case, he assured that Putin has not seen the message released by the politician’s widow.

On the other hand, the Kremlin spokesman asserted that Moscow also completely rejects calls for an international investigation into Navalny’s death, “even more so” if they come from the head of the European Union’s diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

Navalny’s widow, who was in Brussels yesterday, stated that she will continue her husband’s fight against the Kremlin, blaming its occupant for his murder.

In a video posted on the late opposition leader’s YouTube channel, the widow of Russia’s number one political opponent denounced that “Putin not only killed the person, but also wanted to kill our hopes, our freedom, our future.”

In Russia, Navalny’s mother demanded on Tuesday that Putin hand over her son’s body “so that I can bury him properly.”

“I am addressing you, Vladimir Putin. The solution to this issue depends solely on you. Let me see my son once and for all!” said Lyudmila Navalnaya in a video posted by Navalny’s team on YouTube.

“It’s the fifth day that I can’t see him, they don’t give me his body, and they don’t even tell me where he is,” she said.

The video was recorded outside the “Polar Bear” prison in the Arctic town of Yarp, where the opposition figure suddenly died last Friday, according to prison authorities.

Navalny’s team published on Telegram the letter addressed to the Presidential Administration and handwritten by Lyudmila Navalnaya, in which she denounces that the Investigative Committee of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District does not allow her access to her son’s body.

The opposition figure’s mother arrived in that inhospitable area of Russia on Saturday, but both prison officials and morgue employees refused to address her requests.

Navalny’s associates accuse the Russian authorities of refusing to hand over the body to “cover up” the crime.

According to his spokesperson, Kira Yarmish, Russian investigators argue that they need to perform a “chemical examination” on the corpse and require at least another 14 days.

The organization that advocates for the rights of detainees assures that more than 60,000 people have already signed a popular petition for the authorities to hand over the body to the family.

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International

Assange seeks appeal as extradition decision nears

The two hearings to decide whether Julian Assange can appeal his case in the UK or be extradited to the United States began on Tuesday at the High Court in London.

Amid great anticipation from the public and press, Judges Victoria Sharp and Adam Johnson commenced the session, which will conclude on Wednesday, by hearing arguments from the defense of the 52-year-old Australian.

Assange was unable to attend the hearing in person, despite the court authorizing it, as he was not feeling well, according to his lawyer, Ed Fitzgerald.

The British prosecution will represent the US Justice Department, which is seeking the founder of WikiLeaks on 18 charges of espionage and computer intrusion for the disclosures made by his platform, which exposed US human rights violations in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011.

Fitzgerald began his plea by listing the reasons why his client should be allowed to appeal again, arguing that if extradited to the United States, his rights to a fair trial and freedom of expression, among others, would be violated.

“The prosecution is politically motivated. Assange exposed serious wrongdoing. He is being prosecuted for engaging in ordinary journalistic practice, obtaining and publishing classified information, information that is both true and of obvious and significant public interest,” he argued.

At the request of the defense, the two judges will review, between Tuesday and Wednesday, the decision made on June 6, 2023, by a single magistrate, Jonathan Swift, who denied him permission to continue appealing in this country and upheld the extradition order to the US.

After hearing from the parties, the judges could deliver their ruling immediately or postpone it.

If they ultimately authorize him to appeal the aspects of his case that the defense did not address in previous trials, a new trial would commence before the London Court of Appeal.

If, on the other hand, they agree with Swift in denying him permission, the extradition mechanism to the US, overseen by the British Home Office, would be activated.

In the latter case, his lawyers have already stated that they will immediately request urgent interim measures from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) under Article 39 of its regulations to halt the extradition while lodging an appeal with the European court.

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International

U.S. Investigates Alleged Airstrike Killing of Cuban Doctors in Somalia

The United States is investigating whether a US airstrike against Al-Shabab killed two Cuban doctors held by the jihadist group in Somalia last week, as claimed by the terrorist organization.

A spokesperson for the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) confirmed to EFE that “an airstrike against the Al-Shabab network was conducted on February 15 near Jilib, Somalia,” where the doctors were allegedly killed.

“We are aware of reports about an attack that allegedly killed two civilians,” the source admitted, emphasizing that AFRICOM “will continue to assess the results of this operation and provide additional information when available.”

“We do not have more information at this time about these reports, but we take all claims of civilian casualties seriously,” the spokesperson added.

Al-Shabab claimed on Saturday that two Cuban doctors kidnapped by the organization in 2019 died last Thursday in a US Army airstrike in Somalia, although this has not yet been officially confirmed by the authorities in the African country.

“The airstrike, which began at around 00:10 local time (21:10 GMT), targeted a house in Jilib and instantly killed Assel Herrera and Landy Rodríguez, captured on April 12, 2019,” in northern Kenya, the jihadist group said in a statement.

Al-Shabab stated that “American crusaders conducted multiple drone strikes in the city of Jilib (…) killing the two Cuban prisoners.”

The statement also included the alleged photograph of one of the deceased Cuban doctors.

Surgeon Landy Rodríguez Hernández and general medicine specialist Assel Herrera Correa were kidnapped on April 12, 2019, in the Kenyan city of Mandera (northeast), bordering Somalia and a target of jihadist attacks in the past.

That day, the two doctors were traveling, as was their custom, in a convoy to the Mandera hospital protected by armed escorts when they were intercepted after a shootout in which one of the policemen guarding them was killed.

In May 2019, traditional leaders from Kenya and Somalia who traveled to the Somali region of Jubaland, controlled by Al-Shabab, to negotiate on behalf of the doctors, confessed to having seen the doctors providing medical assistance to the local population.

According to the mediators, the kidnappers demanded 1.5 million dollars as a condition for their release, the Kenyan press reported at the time.

Herrera and Rodríguez were part of a contingent of a hundred Cuban professionals who arrived in Kenya in 2018 under a bilateral agreement to improve access to specialized healthcare services in the African country.

The United States has been involved in military operations against Al-Shabab, in cooperation with the Somali Army, since at least 2007.

Somalia has seen an intensification of military offensives against the terrorist group since Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud announced a “total war” against the jihadists in August 2022.

Affiliated with Al-Qaeda since 2012, Al-Shabab often carries out attacks in the capital, Mogadishu, and other parts of the country to overthrow the central government – backed by the international community – and establish a Wahhabi-style Islamic state (ultra-conservative).

The group controls rural areas of central and southern Somalia and also attacks neighboring countries such as Kenya and Ethiopia.

Somalia has been in a state of war and chaos since 1991, when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was overthrown, leaving the country without an effective government and in the hands of Islamist militias and warlords.

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