Jair Bolsonaro returns to Brazil to lead opposition

BRASILIA (Reuters) – Brazil’s former President Jair Bolsonaro, who never conceded defeat in last year’s election, returned from exile in Florida on Thursday to lead the opposition against leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Thousands of supporters are expected to greet him at Brasilia airport upon his arrival from Orlando at 7am (1000 GMT). Authorities have tightened security, closing traffic along the capital’s commercial center to prevent the risk of violent protests.

Before boarding in Orlando, Jair Bolsonaro downplayed his leadership role and said he would use his experience to help his party, the Liberal Party, campaign in local elections.

“We have turned the page and now we will prepare for next year’s elections,” he told CNN Brasil.

Jair Bolsonaro, 68, left for the United States on January 1, two days before Lula’s inauguration. He had said he needed rest, but his opponents believed he was avoiding the risks associated with the dozens of legal investigations he could face in Brazil.

The legal investigation has focused on his attacks on Brazil’s electoral system and his alleged role in storming government buildings during the January 8 riots, reminiscent of the storming of the United States Capitol in 2021.

The far-right former president will drive from the airport to the headquarters of the conservative Liberal Party, which in the last elections has become the largest party in Brazil’s Congress.

Political analysts say mobilizing the 58 million voters who supported him last year will be no easy task.

(Reporting by Anthony Boodle and Ricardo Brito, French version edited by Gail Sheehan, Kate Enstringer)

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