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Brazil's Bolsonaro grabs at heckler, tries to take phone

·2-min read

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro briefly grappled with a heckler and tried to snatch his phone on Thursday, underscoring possible challenges for the sometimes quick-tempered leader to stay disciplined on the campaign trail.

As Bolsonaro spoke to supporters outside his residence in the capital city of Brasilia, social media influencer Wilker Leão used his phone to film himself repeatedly shouting at the president, calling him “coward,” “bum” and the “darling” of a pork-barrel faction in Congress.

Bolsonaro first entered his car, but then reemerged and grabbed the man’s shirt and forearm while reaching for his phone. Security guards pulled Leão away.

The presidential campaign that kicked off Tuesday is expected to be an uphill battle for Bolsonaro, who trails former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in all polls ahead of the Oct. 2 first round vote.

A journalist from news website G1 published a video of Leão's comments and the subsequent altercation.

“Don’t film this, don’t film this,” Bolsonaro told his supporters as Leão was held by presidential security. “It is his right (to protest), but he was being impolite.”

Four minutes later, security allowed Leão to return to the scene and chat with Bolsonaro about politics. The two have spoken several times before, without incident.

“You can talk to me as much as you want,” Bolsonaro told Leão. The two spoke for five minutes until the president decided to go back to his car and leave.

Bolsonaro has had earlier confrontations, often with the press. In 2020, he told a journalist, “I want to punch you in the mouth" and once suggested he'd like to shoot supporters of the rival Workers' Party.

Mario Sergio Lima, a senior Brazil analyst at Medley Advisors, said the incident will weigh against Bolsonaro at a moment he could start his campaign in a more positive tone to pick up support.

“It was a very bad sequence for the president in electoral terms. It shows a lack of restraint and it is likely to be used against him by his opponents' campaigns,” Lima told The Associated Press in a phone interview.

Later Thursday during a visit to the city of Sao Jose dos Campos, Bolsonaro got upset with journalists during a news conference and with his security team trying to calm him down during the questioning.

The president did not address either of the incidents during his weekly live broadcast.