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Brazilian presidential front-runner stabbed at rally

Far-right congressman Jair Bolsonaro was seriously injured during an incident in Juiz de Fora.

Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro moments before he was stabbed.
Brazilian presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro moments before he was stabbed. AP

The stabbing of a leading Brazilian presidential candidate has the potential to reshape the election contest after dramatically exposing the deep polarisation in Latin America's largest nation.

Far-right Social Liberal Party congressman Jair Bolsonaro was seriously injured after a man stabbed him in the abdomen during a campaign event in Juiz de Fora.

The former army captain has promised to crack down on crime, and has long argued that Brazil is in chaos and needs a strong hand.

After the attack, Brazilians surged on to social media to argue over whether the incident supports Mr Bolsonaro's assertions that the country is off the rails, or whether his heated rhetoric contributed to inciting the attack.

National Social Liberal Party presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro
National Social Liberal Party presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro Eraldo Peres/AP

Dr Luiz Henrique Borsato, who performed emergency surgery on the candidate, said Mr Bolsonaro's recovery is "satisfactory" so far.

He said the candidate would remain in hospital for at least a week after a two-hour operation to stop serious internal bleeding.

In videos of the moment of the attack posted on social media, Mr Bolsonaro could be seen on the shoulders of a supporter, looking out at the crowd and giving a thumbs-up sign with his left hand.

Adelio Bispo de Oliveira is suspected of stabbing Jair Bolsonaro
Adelio Bispo de Oliveira is suspected of stabbing Jair Bolsonaro AP

He is seen flinching and then goes out of view. Other videos show supporters carrying him to a car and hitting a man who appears to have been the attacker.

A suspect, identified by authorities as 40-year-old Adelio Bispo de Oliveira, was arrested within seconds.

Police did not identify a motive, but one official said the man appeared to be mentally unstable.

Flavio Bolsonaro Twitter
Flavio Bolsonaro Twitter Twitter screengrab

After more than four years of revelations of widespread corruption within Brazil's political class, anger is running high in the country, and analysts initially predicted this poll would see huge changes. But no true outside candidate has emerged.

Instead, Mr Bolsonaro, despite being a congressman since 1991, has harnessed much of the anger and presented himself as a maverick who will clean up a corrupt system.

He also promises to confront a surge in crime, in part by giving police a freer hand to shoot to kill while on duty.

The public's anger is partially responsible for making this year's campaign the most unpredictable in years for Brazil, and the attack could lead to another seismic shift.

Geraldo Alckmin Twitter
Geraldo Alckmin Twitter Twitter screengrab

The man leading the polls, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has been barred from running by electoral authorities because he was convicted of corruption and is in jail. That puts Mr Bolsonaro in the lead position, though it is unclear how the attack might affect the campaign for the October 7 presidential ballot.

In the hours following the attack in Juiz de Fora, about 125 miles north of Rio de Janeiro, Mr Bolsonaro's supporters predicted it would carry him to the presidency.

"They made Bolsonaro a martyr," said Jonatan Valente, a student who joined a small vigil for Mr Bolsonaro in Sao Paulo.

"I think the left shot itself in the foot because with this attack they will end up electing Bolsonaro."

However, it is unknown when the candidate can get out again on the campaign trail or if his injuries will impede his ability to campaign.

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