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Son of Brazil’s election front-runner says top court could be closed, setting off alarm

SAO PAULO — Three supreme court justices on Monday criticized the son of presidential front-runner Jair Bolsonaro for saying that Brazil’s top court could be closed if it tried to remove his father from the presidency.

Chief Justice Jose Dias Toffoli said in a statement that “attacking the judiciary is attacking democracy” as the remarks by Congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro dominated news stations in Latin America’s largest nation.

Justice Alexandre de Moraes called for an investigation into whether the comments threatened national security. Justice Celso de Mello, the longest serving member of the Supreme Federal Tribunal, told the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo that the statements by the far-right congressman were “coup mongering” and “irresponsible.”

They were reacting to a video released over the weekend that showed a speech in July by Eduardo Bolsonaro to people studying for a national test to become federal policemen. It set off alarm bells in Brazil, which had a military dictatorship between 1964 and 1985.

Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right former army captain, leads all polls heading into his runoff Sunday with leftist Fernando Haddad. In the presidential contest’s first round Oct. 7 with 13 candidates, Bolsonaro got 46 percent of the votes, while Haddad finished second with 29 percent.

In the video, Eduardo Bolsonaro responded to a question about what the campaign would do if his father won the presidency and was removed from office.

Any such move “will be them against us,” he said. “People make fun of that because if one wants to close the supreme court, you know what you do? You don’t even need to send a jeep. Send two soldiers.”

Then he added: “What is the supreme court, man? Remove the might of the pen of a justice, who is he on the streets? If you arrest a justice, do you think people will protest in his favor? Millions on the street?”

Eduardo Bolsonaro speculated that a move to unseat his father could be based on allegations of illegal campaign financing. Brazil’s electoral court opened an investigation into that matter last week.

The son tweeted Monday that his statements about shutting down the court were taken out of context.

“I never defended the closing of the Supreme Federal Tribunal,” he said, but instead merely responded to a “bizarre hypothesis.”

When asked about the comments Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro, who apparently didn’t know who had made the statements, said in a video posted to various social media accounts that whoever wanted to close the supreme court “needs to go to a psychiatrist.”

Told that the statements were made by his son, the elder Bolsonaro said: “That can’t be. If that was the case, the comments were taken out of context.”

Also Monday, Facebook announced it was removing 68 pages and 43 accounts that promoted Bolsonaro’s candidacy.

Facebook said the decision was based on the behavior, not the content, in material linked to a pro-Bolsonaro group called Raposo Fernandes Associados.

“Spammers have used politically sensationalist content more and more — regardless of ideology — to build an audience and direct traffic to their websites outside Facebook, making money each time a person visits these websites,” Facebook said in a statement. “That is precisely what these pages and accounts removed today were doing.”

Raposo Fernandes Associados did not reply a request for comment.

Haddad had a small piece of good news, getting the endorsement environmentalist Marina Silva, who was one of the losing presidential candidates in the opening round.

Earlier, Haddad said authorities are being cowed by members of the armed forces who endorse Bolsonaro.

“Our institutions are being threatened by the hard line of the armed forces,” Haddad said. “If he (Bolsonaro) has the courage of threatening our democracy before the election, guess what he will do with the support of voters.”

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