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Brazil: A giant in crisis rocked by corruption

Brazil is Latin America's biggest country, spanning 8.5 million square kilometers (3.2 million square miles) to cover nearly half the continent.

Brazil President Michel Temer. Picture: AFP

RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil, which holds presidential elections on 7 October, is a giant in size and economy, but has been struck by a string of corruption scandals that have rocked its political core.

Here are some key facts about the country:

AMAZON: 'LUNGS OF THE EARTH'

Brazil is Latin America's biggest country, spanning 8.5 million square kilometers (3.2 million square miles) to cover nearly half the continent.

It includes about 60% of the Amazon rainforest, the largest in the world and essential in the exchange of CO2 for oxygen.

The only Portuguese-speaking country in Latin America, 47% of its population of 208 million is of mixed race, according to Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics (IBGE).

Forty-three percent are white and nearly 9% black.

The world's largest Roman Catholic nation, it has taken in tens of thousands of Venezuelans fleeing the crisis in their country, an influx which has stoked tensions.

SOAP OPERA SCANDALS

After 300 years of Portuguese colonial rule, Brazil gained independence in 1822 and became a monarchy.

It abolished slavery in 1888, the last country in the Americas to do so and having been a major importer of African slaves.

A republic was established in 1889 and the military took over in 1964, imposing a dictatorship until 1985 when civilian rule was restored.

The towering political figure of the country's modern history is the popular Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers' Party (PT), who in 2003 became Brazil's first left-wing president, re-elected in 2006.

Under his social programs, 29 million Brazilians emerged from poverty.

His handpicked successor, Dilma Rousseff, became the first woman president in 2010. She was impeached in 2016, accused of financial wrongdoing in office.

The current president, the unpopular Michel Temer, was also implicated in graft but escaped impeachment and is not standing in the polls.

The series of corruption scandals, essentially linked to contracts with state oil giant Petrobras, has spared no political party and drawn comparisons with Brazil's highly popular "telenovelas," or soap operas.

The saga saw Lula jailed in April 2018, barring him from running for elections despite being a long-time favourite.

ECONOMIC GIANT

The continent's biggest economy, Brazil relies on abundant natural resources and a dynamic industrial sector, including automobile construction, civil aviation, household goods and textiles.

It is among the world's leading producers and exporters of coffee, sugar, orange juice, beef, poultry, ethanol fuel, soybeans and iron.

But it suffered a recession in 2015 and 2016, when its economy contracted 3.5 percent, recovering to one percent growth in 2017.

Despite some success in reducing poverty, wealth inequality remains high and the country has several thousand impoverished "favela" areas. A quarter of the population of Rio de Janeiro lives in such areas.

It is also one of the most violent countries in the world with 30.8 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants in 2017, according to the Brazilian NGO Forum of Public Security.

FOOTBALL AND CARNIVAL

Brazil is the only country to have won football's World Cup five times (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002) and has produced legends of the game such as Pele, Ronaldo and Neymar.

It is also renowned for its abundance of musical styles, from samba to funk and bossa nova.

The annual Rio carnival of dancers and outsized floats is said to be the biggest in the world, with about six million people, including some 1.5 million tourists, taking part in February this year.

It earns the city around $1.06 billion in tourism revenues, according to the mayor's office.

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