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Presidential Front-Runner In Brazil Is Stabbed During Rally


Brazil is in the middle of a presidential race, but the race has been thrown into turmoil after the frontrunner was stabbed yesterday at a campaign rally. Jair Bolsonaro, the candidate from the far-right, was lucky to survive this attack. NPR's Philip Reeves reports from Rio de Janeiro.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Bolsonaro was doing what he often does on the campaign trail. He was out in the streets, pressing the flesh, in the middle of a crowd. Videos posted online show Bolsonaro sitting on a supporter's shoulders when he's suddenly stabbed with a knife to the stomach and topples over in agony. Police say they arrested the suspected attacker, a man aged 40. The man reportedly told investigators he was acting on the orders of God. The attack happened in the city of Juiz de Fora in southeast Brazil. Bolsonaro underwent a two-hour operation to stop internal bleeding. A doctor at the hospital afterwards described his condition as serious, but stable.

Political tensions were already running high in Brazil after the authorities banned the former leftist President Lula da Silva, the clear leader in the polls, from running because of corruption convictions - he's in prison. That left Bolsonaro, a 63-year-old retired army captain, as front runner. Bolsonaro's a polarizing figure, a law and order hardliner with a record for racist, sexist and homophobic remarks. Yet corruption, crime and recession have turned many Brazilians away from mainstream establishment politicians and towards Bolsonaro.

Doctors say it'll likely take weeks for Bolsonaro to recover from his wounds. It's not yet clear what will happen to his campaign. Brazilians are debating how this attack might affect his chances of winning. Professor Marcio Coimbra is a political strategist.

MARCIO COIMBRA: Bolsonaro was being heavily attacked by his opponents on TV. And probably, his competitors will stop the attacks now because he is in the hospital.

REEVES: Philip Reeves, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves
Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.