Brazil's former president Jair Bolsonaro leaves while his supporters gather on Paulista Avenue, as police investigate him and his cabinet for allegedly plotting a coup after the 2022 election, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, February 25, 2024. Image Credit: Reuters

Sao Paulo: Jair Bolsonaro led supporters at a rally in the heart of Brazil's biggest city on Sunday in an attempted show of force against political opponents and the country's Supreme Court as the former president faces a litany of legal troubles.

Get exclusive content with Gulf News WhatsApp channel

A total of 750,000 supporters dressed in the green and yellow colors of the Brazilian flag occupied Sao Paulo's Paulista Avenue according to the government of Sao Paulo. Dozens of conservative congressmen and governors also attended, demonstrating Bolsonaro's continued grip on the Brazilian right.

Bolsonaro had largely remained on the political sidelines since his October, 2022, election loss. This month he urged supporters to take to the streets after the supreme court ordered him to surrender his passport as part of a criminal probe into the Jan. 8, 2023 insurrection attempt that sought to overturn his defeat. Federal police targeted dozens of his closest allies, alleging that a "criminal organization" tried to plot a "coup d'A(c)tat, with the support of military personnel."

Supporters of Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil's former president, march on Avenida Paulista in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on Sunday, Feb. 25, 2024. Image Credit: Bloomberg

"More than speech, [we want] a photo of all of you because you are the most important people of this event, to show to Brazil and to the world our unity, our concerns, what we want," Bolsonaro said in a video uploaded two weeks ago inviting his supporters.

On Sunday, the former president arrived at Paulista Avenue 30 minutes before the beginning of the rally. He was accompanied by politicians including the governors of Sao Paulo, Tarcisio de Freitas, and Goias, Ronaldo Caiado, who have been touted by the right wing as potential candidates for the 2026 presidential election.

Bolsonaro said he seeks "pacification" and criticized the "abuse by some," though he didn't mention the supreme court. He reiterated his denial of an attempted coup.

"What is coup? It's tanks in the street, it's weapon, conspiracy," Bolsonaro told the crowd. "None of this was done in Brazil."

Sunday's mobilisation was the first major conservative rally since Bolsonaro left office at the end of 2022. The former president's decision to then leave Brazil for Florida, along with a crackdown on participants in the Jan. 8 riots, dampened the rabid enthusiasm that once animated his movement. Supporters failed to replicate the massive rallies they once staged even after Bolsonaro returned home in March.

But Bolsonaro's calls emboldened supporters to return to the streets, said Bia Kicis, a member of congress and close ally of the former president.

"Now, he made it very clear, put his face and showed: Let's go to the street," Kicis said in a phone interview before the rally.

Jose Guimaraes, leader of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government in the lower house, downplayed the number of attendees.

"It was nothing extraordinary, it was within what we anticipated," he said in an interview, adding that Bolsonaro was trying "to build a narrative to legitimize the coup attempt."

Bolsonaro is barred from seeking or holding public office until at least 2030 for making false claims about Brazil's voting system, making him ineligible for the next presidential elections. He remains the most potent right-wing figure in the country, and stands to play a major role in determining the future of that movement.

Still, more than a dozen federal investigations into possible crimes ranging from the illegal sale of luxury jewellery he received as president to the falsification of vaccine records have forced even his closest allies to consider the possibility that he will face arrest.

In January, police raided the home of Bolsonaro's son, Carlos, a Rio de Janeiro city councilman and long-time adviser to his father, as part of an investigation into the misuse of Brazil's spy agency.