SAO PAULO — Pro-government demonstrators took to the streets across Brazil on Friday to counter anti-government protests, a sign of a growing political rift in the country over President Dilma Rousseff and a corruption scandal enveloping her government.
“Our country is living through a very worrisome moment,” said Eudes Raony, an architect in the northeastern city of Joao Pessoa. “Our democracy is becoming more fragile because of the right-leaning opposition that is pushing for the exit of (Rousseff).”.
The protests, which organizers hoped would draw 700,000 people, sought to match massive demonstrations Sunday and Wednesday demanding the arrest of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and the resignation of Rousseff.
On March 4, Brazilian authorities detained da Silva, the popular former head of the left-wing Worker’s Party, in connection with a bribery investigation involving contracts with Petrobras, Brazil’s state-owned oil company. Numerous top government officials have been implicated in the scandal.
Rousseff countered swiftly by making da Silva her chief of staff, a move that under Brazilian law would require the Supreme Court to preside over his case and make it harder to convict him.
Da Silva and Rousseff style themselves as advocates for the poor. Since 2003, when da Silva took office and Rousseff worked in his administration, they have expanded social welfare programs that they claim have lifted 50 million people out of poverty.
They also presided over an economic boom that ended abruptly several years ago, throwing Brazil into a prolonged slump.
“In support of democracy and the liberties we’ve gained over the last few years, we can’t lose what we’ve gained,” said nutritionist Elia do Gravo in Brasília, the capital.
In Sao Paulo, the financial capital where pro-government demonstrators lined a major thoroughfare for 11 blocks, protesters were peaceful. Still, stores closed in case police used tear gas and other measures to control the crowds, as they have done at other recent protests.
“I came here to support the government,” said Fabio Tatto, an accountant and law student in Sao Paulo. “The Worker’s Party has committed some errors, but they’ve fixed even more.”.
On Wednesday, the chief investigator into the corruption scandal directed the federal police to release wiretaps exposing a conversation between Rousseff and da Silva in which she seemed to suggest using his new post as a shield against prosecution.
After the release of the wiretaps, anti-government protesters flooded the streets across the country, demanding Rousseff’s impeachment.
On Thursday, as da Silva was sworn in to his new job, members of Brazil’s Congress — including many also under investigation — initiated impeachment proceedings against Rousseff on allegations that she bypassed the government budget to boost spending that helped her narrowly win re-election two years ago.
The proceedings could drag on for months as lawmakers decide whether to put the president on trial.
Also on Thursday, a federal judge issued an order blocking da Silva’s Cabinet nomination, but another court overturned that decision on Friday.