RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (JTA) — Some 2,000 Brazilian Jews and non-Jews protested Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presence at Rio + 20, the United Nations summit on sustainable development.
Jews, gays, Afro-Latin Americans and human right activists rallied Sunday at the upscale Ipanema seafront to protest Ahmadinejad’s visit. Backed by intense drumming by the cultural group AfroReggae, marchers carried signs and banners in English that read "Rio does not welcome Mahmoud Ahmadinejad" and "Religious intolerance is not acceptable."
Michel Gherman, the head of Hillel in Rio, yelled about stopping "the speech of hatred that affects the freedom in Brazil." His call was repeated by protesters.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center also called on the summit delegates to boycott Ahmadinejad by leaving the conference room when he speaks and also refusing any request for bilateral meetings from the Iranian delegation.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes canceled the inauguration of a replica of the famed Persepolis columns offered by Iran, citing "delays in the works." The event had been scheduled for Thursday in the presence of the Iranian leader.
City Council member Teresa Bergher, who also presides over the human rights commission, said she will propose a bill to turn Ahmadinejad into persona non grata, or undesired person, which she believes will prevent him from future visits to the city.
Last week, representatives of the Brazilian umbrella Jewish organization CONIB had urged President Dilma Rousseff not to meet with Ahmadinejad because of Iran’s suspicious nuclear program and Ahmadinejad’s repeated denials of the Holocaust, as well as Iranian persecution of minorities and critics of the regime.
“Ahmadinejad is arriving in Brazil at the invitation of the U.N., not the Brazilian government,” said Ricardo Berkiensztat, vice president of the Jewish federation in Sao Paulo, where some 200 people also gathered in a heavily Jewish neighborhood to protest.