RIO DE JANEIRO (JTA) — Hundreds of Jewish and non-Jewish Brazilians protested in Rio de Janeiro on the eve of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s visit.
About 800 people marched along the elegant Ipanema beach to protest the Iranian president’s visit slated for Monday.
Jews, homosexuals, Afro-Brazilians, Gypsies, students, human rights activists and members of several other groups carried banners and posters that read "Mr. President: freedom of expression, explain it to your guest," "The Holocaust didn’t happen?" and "Denying the Holocaust is like denying there was slavery in Brazil."
One of the march organizers, Victor Grinbaum of the Zionist Articulation group, told JTA that "Ahmadinejad’s visit to Brazil challenges our country’s tradition, for we are an example of a liberal, multiracial and peaceful society. Neither diplomacy nor commercial pragmatism justify such an invitation because Ahmadinejad exports hatred."
For Hillel group member Michel Gherman, "Ahmadinejad is not only a threat for Jews, blacks and homosexuals, he is a threat for democracy. We’re here united to defend a free world."
Similar marches were held last week in several other Brazilian cities. In Sao Paulo, some 2,000 protesters gathered at a major city square. On Saturday, a small airplane flew over the same Ipanema beach with the message "Ahmadinejad: Respect human rights and don’t come back."
Ahmadinejad is the third Middle Eastern leader to visit Brazil this month. Both Israeli President Shimon Peres and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have recently been to South America’s largest country.
Ahmadinejad will make a one-day political and commercial visit to Brazil’s capital, Brasilia, on Monday. He will meet President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and other Brazilian government officials. His 200-member business delegation is being called the largest to follow him on an international trip.
Last month, Israeli Chief Rabbi Yona Metzger rapped Brazil’s Senate president Jose Sarney over the Iranian president’s upcoming visit.
"It is very sad to know that Brazil will receive a man who publicly says he wants to destroy our country," Metzger said.
In May, an Ahmadinejad visit to Brazil was canceled at the last minute following several protests by thousands of demonstrators.