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Brazil presidential battle enters home stretch with Lula in the lead

Photo: A News

AFP | Mariëtte Le Roux

Brazil’s deeply polarized election campaign entered the home stretch Thursday with incumbent President Jair Bolsonaro and leftist rival Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva  preparing to square off in what could be a bellicose final debate.

The confrontation will happen in a late-night, live broadcast on TV Globo just hours after a fresh opinion poll signaled a persistent strong lead for Lula ahead of Sunday’s first election round.

Far-right Bolsonaro, 67, is seeking reelection after a controversial first term, but lags behind ex-president Lula, 76, who left office in 2010 with an unprecedented 87-percent approval rating.

On Thursday, a poll by Datafolha showed Lula maintaining a 14-point lead over Bolsonaro with the stated support of 50 percent of respondents who said they intended to cast a valid ballot and not a blank or spoiled one.

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To avoid a runoff round on October 30 and win outright on Sunday, a candidate must garner 50 percent of valid votes, plus one.

Bolsonaro’s stated support remained in a distant second place with 36 percent, Datafolha found.

The incumbent is counting on his evangelical and business-centric support base, while Lula — who served two consecutive terms from 2003 — is appealing to poor, minority and anti-Bolsonaro voters.

Thursday’s TV Globo debate, traditionally the most-watched pre-electoral program in Brazil, will be the last chance for candidates to sway undecided voters, who, polls suggest, number just 13 percent of the electorate.

‘Can change the picture’

Bolsonaro’s camp expect him to adopt an aggressive stance towards Lula in Thursday’s final debate, focusing on the corruption scandals that have damaged the leftist Worker’s Party, and pressing home his conservative values on issues of religion and abortion.

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The pair will be joined on stage by five other candidates with no statistical shot at making it to the final two.

“This is the debate that can change the picture,” a Bolsonaro campaign member told AFP on condition of anonymity.

After the first debate, a month ago, Lula was criticized for seemingly evading the corruption question. His campaign was further harmed by not taking part in another debate, last Saturday, between Bolsonaro and other candidates.

Lula has urged Brazilians loyal to any of the minority candidates — all with less than 10 percent of voter intention — to rather cast a “useful” vote for him, and against Bolsonaro.

The president got a celebrity boost Thursday for his re-election bid from football superstar Neymar, who posted a video on TikTok of himself dancing to a pro-Bolsonaro campaign song.

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Grinning, the Paris Saint-Germain and Brazil striker, arguably Brazil’s most famous celebrity, flashed the number 22 — Bolsonaro’s candidate number —  with his fingers as he rocked out to the electronic dance jingle.

The broadcast election campaign in Brazil ends at midnight on Thursday, although in-person events and distribution of election material will be allowed until Saturday night.

Datafolha will bring out another, final poll on Saturday, the eve of the first round, that could indicate whether Thursday’s debate has swayed any voters. 

Bolsonaro has repeatedly rejected the accuracy of polls and hinted he would challenge any result in which Lula is the winner, saying last weekend: “We are the majority. We will win in the first round.”

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International

Food prices send hunger soaring in Latin America: UN agencies

Photo: AP News

| By AFP |

Rising food prices in Latin America and the Caribbean caused the number of people going hungry in the region to rise by more than 13 million between 2019 and 2021, a United Nations report said Tuesday.

The report by three UN agencies said the region was particularly vulnerable to the global food crisis caused by Russia’s war in Ukraine due to a high reliance on wheat, maize and fertilizer imports.

“The number of people in the region suffering from hunger increased by 13.2 million to 56.5 million,” read the report, released at a press conference in Santiago, Chile.

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In addition, moderate or severe food insecurity affected 267.7 million people — 40.6 percent of the region’s population — in 2021. 

This is “far above the world average” of 29.3 percent, said the report.

“The rise in food inflation and extreme poverty is one of the factors behind the increase in food insecurity and hunger,” said the report by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).

According to the FAO, food insecurity refers to a lack of regular access to healthy and nutritious food.

“The heavy reliance on imported fertilizers, and fluctuating food prices, have an unavoidable negative impact on livelihoods — mainly of the rural population — and access to healthy food,” said Mario Lubetkin, FAO Assistant Director-General.

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International

Colombia landslide kills 34

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

Heavy rains in northwest Colombia sent a wall of earth crashing onto a winding road, swallowing up a bus and other vehicles and killing 34 people, emergency services said Monday.

The landslide Sunday evening prompted a large rescue effort, with dozens of people in hard hats using backhoes and excavators to dig through the earth looking for victims.

The National Unit for Disaster Risk Management said the fatalities included eight minors and that nine other people were injured in the disaster in the remote town of Pueblo Rico.

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The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, and traveled 270 kilometers (170 miles) before being hit by the landslide as it passed through the Andes mountain region, civil defense officials said.

Colombian media reported that a child had survived and was pulled from the arms of its mother, who did not make it.

One survivor said the bus driver had at first managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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The country has declared a national disaster over the rains linked to the exceptionally long La Nina weather phenomenon, which cools surface temperatures and is currently causing drought and flooding around the globe.

Today, the landslide “puts this town in mourning, tomorrow it could be in another area, because we really have many unstable areas in the country, and the rainy season has not ended,” said Javier Pava of the UNGRD.

The UN’s World Meteorological Organization said last week the La Nina conditions could last until February or March 2023.

In Colombia, the phenomenon has also caused crop damage, compromising food supplies and leading to soaring prices.

In July, three children were killed in northwestern Colombia when a landslide buried a rural school. In February, 14 people died in a mudslide triggered by heavy rains in central-western Risaralda province.

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International

At least 27 killed in Colombia landslide: president

Photo: AFP

| By AFP |

At least 27 people were killed when a landslide engulfed a road in northwest Colombia, trapping people in a bus and other vehicles, said President Gustavo Petro on Monday.

“It is with sadness that I must announce that, so far, 27 people, including three minors, have lost their lives in the tragedy” that struck on Sunday in a remote area of the Pueblo Rico municipality, Petro wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday evening, the president reported three dead, as dozens of rescue workers searched for survivors.

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One survivor said the driver of the bus managed to dodge the worst of the landslide.

“Part of it was coming down and the bus was a little bit back from that. The bus driver was backing up when it all came crashing down,” Andres Ibarguen told radio station Lloro Stereo.

The bus had set out from the city of Cali with 25 passengers, civil defense officials said.

The rainy season that began in August is Colombia’s worst in 40 years, according to the government, causing accidents that have left more than 270 people dead.

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