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Brazil braces for pivotal Sunday presidential election following contentious campaign

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After the most contentious election race since the end of military rule in 1985, Brazilians will Sunday choose their next president, weighing a decade of social progress against a yearning for economic revival.

Final opinion polls Saturday showed leftist incumbent Dilma Rousseff narrow favorite with a four- to six-point advantage over center-right business world choice Aecio Neves in the race to lead the world’s seventh-largest economy.

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A former guerrilla jailed and tortured for fighting the country’s 1964-1985 military regime, Rousseff — Brazil’s first woman president — has needed all her battling qualities to claw back the advantage on Neves.

Sunday’s vote is widely seen as a referendum on 12 years of government by her Workers’ Party (PT) — eight under working-class hero Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and four under Rousseff, who has presided over four years of anaemic growth culminating in recession.

The PT has endeared itself to the masses though, particularly in the impoverished north, with landmark social programs that have lifted 40 million people out of poverty, increased wages and brought unemployment to a record low 4.9 percent.

But after Brazil benefited from an economic boom during the Lula years, the outlook has darkened since Rousseff won the 2010 election, the year economic growth peaked at 7.5 percent.

Rousseff, 66, has overseen rising inflation and a recession this year. She also faced massive protests last year against corruption, record spending on the World Cup, and poor services, notably education, healthcare and transport.

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– Trading punches –

She has further been battered by a multi-billion-dollar embezzlement scandal implicating dozens of politicians — mainly her allies — at state-owned oil giant Petrobras.

Rightwing news magazine Veja on Friday quoted a suspect in the case as saying Rousseff and Lula personally knew of the scam. She roundly denied the claim and threatened to sue.

Before the October 5 first-round vote, Rousseff fended off environmentalist Marina Silva, who initially surged in opinion polls with her vow to become Brazil’s first “poor, black” president having dramatically entered the race after running mate Eduardo Campos died in a plane crash.

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No sooner had the PT electoral machine dispatched Silva — who exited the contest with 21 percent to Rousseff’s 42 percent and Neves’s 34 percent — than the incumbent had to beat back Neves, who having ousted Silva then opened a brief lead in surveys.

With the candidates fighting for every vote in this sprawling country of 202 million people, the campaign took on a level of animosity not seen since the return to democracy.

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Rousseff accused Neves of nepotism as governor of Minas Gerais state, then played up a report he once hit his then-girlfriend in public.

And she suggested the Social Democrat was driving “drunk or on drugs” when he refused to take a breathalyzer during a 2011 traffic stop.

Neves, a 54-year-old senator and the grandson of the man elected Brazil’s first post-dictatorship president, responded in kind, accusing Rousseff of lying, incompetent economic management and “collusion” in the Petrobras kickbacks.

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– Middle class key –

Brazil’s 142.8 million voters enter election day divided along social lines.

“Yet in reality, the two candidates don’t have widely differing policies — four years is quite a short time to turn the ship around,” Lia Valls, an economist at the Getulio Vargas Foundation specializing in Brazilian trade, told AFP.

While the poor back the PT, Brazil’s elite are exasperated with interventionist economic policies such as gasoline price controls and high taxes.

The key battleground is for votes in the industrialized southeast, the cradle of the million-strong protests last year where a growing middle class is making growing demands.

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They are torn between voters loyal to the PT’s transformative social policies and those frustrated on the economy.

“The country is divided, and whoever wins will need to reach out to the opposition,” said Lourdes Casanova, an emerging markets specialist at Cornell University in New York state.

Voters are also electing governors in run-offs in 14 states where no candidate took more than 50 percent in the first round.

Polls open at 8:00 am (1000 GMT in Rio) and results are expected shortly after the 5:00 pm close, thanks to a sophisticated electronic voting system.

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Voting is compulsory in Brazil, Latin America’s largest democracy.


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Colbert names Trump’s siege on DC the ‘Tinyman Square’ incident

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It wasn't quite Tiananmen Square, where a still-unknown number of Chinese protesters were murdered by the government in 1989, but it was the closest thing President Donald Trump managed to score this week.

After watching the footage of the military tear gas, beat and shoot at protesters so Trump could march from the presidential bunker to St. John's Church for the cameras.

"It was like Tiananmen Square," Colbert deemed. "Except, in Trump's case, Tinyman Square."

Trump claimed on "The Fox & Friends" that no one was tear-gassed, so it's unclear what was stinging people's eyes and making them cough, choke and tear up. The Park Police released a statement saying it wasn't tear gas. While the moment was captured on video from dozens of different camera angles, one protester actually grabbed a canister of Oleoresins Capiscum, or "OC," the gas that was used.

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Vladimir Putin must love watching the US fall apart: columnist

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New Yorker columnist Susan Glasser made the astute observation that if Russian President Vladimir Putin wanted to destabilize the United States with the election of President Donald Trump, he's clearly achieved his objective.

It was reported in March that Russian intelligence services are working to incite violence using white supremacist groups to try and sow racial chaos in the United States ahead of the November election.

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Conservative columnist links all Republicans to the attack on Lafayette Square

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Monday afternoon, President Donald Trump decided to walk across Lafayette Square for a photo-op. To get there, however, it took an outright battle with mounted park police, police covered in body armor and rattled Secret Service members who had just rushed the president to the bunker several nights before. Armed with semi-automatic weapons and military gear, they staged a siege on Lafayette Square against unarmed hippies, woke whites and people of color, again, forced to fight for justice.

Writing for the Washington Post Wednesday, conservative columnist Max Boot attacked Attorney General Bill Barr, who accepted responsibility for demanding that demonstrators be tear-gassed, beaten and shot with rubber bullets. Like Bull Conor ordering fire hoses on students marching in Birmingham, Alabama, Barr's attack on Lafayette Square for a photo-op proved he is willing to do what it takes to stroke the fractured ego of a president forced to cower in a bunker.

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