Rio de Janeiro - Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Thursday accused the opposition-party presidential candidate, Jose Serra, of feigning an attack during a campaign event.
'It is a blatant lie,' Lula said.
He claimed that the centre-right Serra staged a 'farce' when he said he had been hit in the head by an object hurled at him Wednesday in Rio de Janeiro by supporters of Lula's Workers' Party (PT). Dilma Rousseff, Serra's rival in the runoff presidential election of October 31, is also a member of the party and has been endorsed by Lula.
'That episode turned yesterday into farce day, lie day,' Lula said at a press conference in the southern Brazilian city of Rio Grande.
Serra said he was attacked Wednesday during a campaign walk in the Rio de Janeiro neighbourhood of Campo Grande, allegedly by PT supporters. As a result of the attack, the centre-right candidate cancelled the remainder of his campaign in Rio ahead of the runoff October 31.
Serra's advisors said Wednesday that a clash broke out between supporters of his Party of Brazilian Social Democracy (PSDB) and PT supporters. Supporters of the PT shouted abuse and threw objects at Serra's party, the candidate's camp said.
Lula claimed television footage of the incident shows that Serra was hit with a crushed bit of paper and kept walking, but later got a call from 'some campaign advertising advisor who suggested that he cut short the walk and put his hands to his head' to feign an attack.
After the attack, Serra got into a car that drove about 100 metres before he got out to continue his campaign walk. He was later taken to hospital, where doctors recommended that he rest. He cancelled two more events in Rio on Wednesday.
In brief comments to reporters Wednesday, Serra blamed the attack on 'PT shock troops' and said the group's behaviour was 'typical of fascist movements.'
PT Secretary General Jose Eduardo Cardozo, however, said Wednesday the party does not promote violence and that the hostile atmosphere in the campaign was triggered by the PSDB, which 'started this campaign of hatred.'
'I regret the incident, it is not good. Our party in no way promotes such actions. But this campaign promotes hatred, and that does not start with us,' Cardozo said.
Rousseff was herself the target of plastic bags filled with water and even of a small flag, which were flung at her from nearby buildings as she walked through the southern Brazilian city of Curitiba Thursday. She was not, however, hit by any of these objects.
According to an opinion poll released by the Vox Populi Institute on Tuesday, Lula's designated heir Rousseff has a comfortable lead ahead of the runoff. The poll shows her with 57 per cent support, to Serra's 41 per cent.
A survey made public Wednesday by the Sensus Institute was less optimistic for Rousseff, and showed 53 per cent support to Serra's 43 per cent.
Brazil's ugly abortion reality lost in election noise
(Reuters) - It was a little-noticed headline amid the daily crime, violence and accidents in Rio de Janeiro's rough outskirts -- Adriana de Souza Queiroz, 26, dead after a clandestine abortion went wrong.
Queiroz, who scraped a living handing out pamphlets and was 3 or 4 months pregnant, last month became one of the some 300 Brazilian women who die each year after back street abortions.
The issue of abortion in the world's most populous Roman Catholic country has been thrust into the spotlight by a presidential election in which front-running candidate Dilma Rousseff has been punished by religious voters for her past support for decriminalizing the procedure.
Abortion rights groups have long argued the law does little to prevent abortions in Brazil and mostly hurts poor women who can't afford safer, expensive underground clinics.
The health ministry says that about one in seven Brazilian women under 40 have had at least one abortion and about a third of all pregnancies end in the procedure. That is in line with the rest of Latin America, which has among the world's highest abortion rates despite it being mostly illegal, and compares to about a fifth in the United States, where abortion is legal.
But with both Rousseff of the ruling Workers' Party and her opposition rival Jose Serra now vying ahead of the Oct. 31 runoff election to convince voters of their "respect for life" and opposition to decriminalization, reform may now be off the agenda for years.
When President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva came to power in 2003, many believed Brazil's strict abortion laws could be liberalized.
His Workers' Party has consistently supported expanded abortion rights and a bill to legalize abortions up to 12 weeks from conception was sent to Congress in 2005, but it was rejected and evangelical Christians have an increasingly powerful bloc in Congress, and in election campaigns.
Hounded by rumours that she favours complete legalization of abortions, Rousseff last week issued an open letter vowing not send to Congress any bill to decriminalize the procedure.
Abortions are only allowed in Brazil in cases of rape and when the mother's life is in danger, and sometimes not even then.
The campaign by evangelical and Roman Catholic leaders against Rousseff helped stop her short of winning the election in the Oct. 3 first round.
It could also trip her up in the runoff vote as recent polls show Serra gaining ground.
He has used images of pregnant women in his TV slots to show his "pro-life" credentials, and religious leaders are keeping up their attacks on Rousseff. One of Brazil's most popular evangelical leaders, Silas Malafaia, has appeared in Serra's commercial to endorse the candidate.
"Is abortion a question of public health? No," Malafaia said on his own recent program giving advice to voters. "God blessed Brazil. He can direct our country and we will vote with our conscience in those who represent our ideas."
Proponents of reform say Rousseff's trouble in the campaign is hampering discussion of the abortion issue.
"I think this debate could stir up old stigmas," said Leila Adesse, the country director of Ipas Brazil, a group that works to reduce abortion-related deaths. "None of us is promoting abortion, we just want it to be treated with dignity."
Sometimes, Adesse said, women who have just had abortions are handcuffed to their beds and charged with the crime that can carry up to 3 years in prison.
Around 200,000 women are admitted to hospital with abortion complications each year, many with infections caused by using dirty implements, while others use burning chemicals and risky homemade potions.
The most common method is the ulcer drug misoprostol, better known by the brand name Cytotec, which the government banned in the early 1990s but which can obtained on the black market. Drug gangs in Rio's slums reportedly sell the drug, which induces miscarriage and often causes haemorrhaging, alongside cocaine.
"Without doubt there is a big problem, not only for women but for the unborn children that are killed by abortion," said Lenise Garcia, president of the Brazil Without Abortion group whose website gives advice on which candidates are "pro-life."
"The problem should be tackled through prevention."
Thomaz Gollop, an obstetrician who campaigns for abortion rights, said the overwhelmingly religious nature of the debate over abortion was an affront to Brazil's secular state.
"Abortion is an important cause of maternal mortality, which is linked to legislation that is completely out of date," he said. "The debate with society should be based on questions of public health rather than prejudices."
Those voicing support for more abortion rights are swimming against the tide of public opinion, however. A survey by the Datafolha polling firm this month found rejection of abortion at a record high with 71 percent of Brazilians wanting the law maintained and only 7 percent favouring decriminalization.
"Back street abortions are terrible. But it's up to people to take better care to make sure they don't get pregnant," said Rose Santos, a 33-year-old housekeeper in Rio de Janeiro who attends a Protestant church and is a Rousseff supporter.
Brazil's Green Party to remain neutral in run-off vote
The defeated Green Party candidate in Brazil's presidential election has said she will remain neutral before a second round run-off vote on 31 October.
Marina Silva, who won 19% of the vote in the first round, said this would allow the Greens to boost their support and advance the environmental agenda.
"We should place ourselves in a position as moderators," she explained.
Dilma Rousseff of the Workers' Party is narrowly ahead of the Social Democratic Party's Jose Serra in recent polls.
Ms Silva, a former environment minister, came third as expected in the election on 3 October, but correspondents say her unexpectedly strong showing means there are up to 20 million votes up for grabs.
Ms Rousseff and Mr Serra have both been courting Ms Silva, and the Green Party has been promised ministries in whichever administration takes office.
But on Sunday, Ms Silva announced at a party convention in Sao Paulo that she would endorse neither candidate.
Neutrality would give the party more influence in national debates, she said.
The decision was greeted by the convention audience with a long ovation.
Party leaders favoured declaring support for Mr Serra, but Ms Silva wanted those who backed her to make up their own minds, correspondents say.
Although Ms Silva stood for the Green Party, she comes from a very different political background from most of its members, they add.
A child of rubber-tappers from the Amazonian state of Acre, Ms Silva was illiterate until the age of 14.
She worked with the rainforest activist Chico Mendes, who was murdered in 1988, and she was appointed environment minister when Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva won the presidency in 2002.
But she left the government in May 2008, citing difficulties in pursuing an environmental agenda. She was vocal in blaming the deforestation of the Amazon on Brazilian cattle ranchers and farmers.
Pffft, this campaign is disgusting, makes Fernando Collor look classy etc, etc.