CHAPECO, Brazil (Reuters) - President Michel Temer came to mourn Brazil’s tragic heroes, a rural soccer team that beat the odds and was then wiped out in a plane crash. But he kept a low profile, mindful of his poor popularity ratings.
Temer, who assumed the presidency after the controversial impeachment of his predecessor earlier this year, has made only limited public appearances since losing two ministers to a corruption scandal.
He did not initially plan to be at the wake for the Chapecoense team, which was all but wiped out in an air crash on Monday in Colombia.
Originally, according to a source at the presidential palace, Temer planned only to travel to the airport at the city in remote southern Brazil long enough to receive the coffins of 50 players, club officials and journalists. Relatives of the deceased complained publicly about the idea of joining him.
Once at the airport, though, Temer told reporters he would indeed proceed to the team’s stadium, where thousands applauded remarks from nearly a dozen dignitaries, from the local mayor to Gianni Infantino, the head of global soccer body FIFA.
Yet Temer refrained from addressing the crowd during the roughly three-hour ceremony. The president entered and left without announcement, making his moves as fans clapped along to the Chapecoense club anthem and other music.
Temer’s appearance at the wake, a focus of national mourning after the crash that killed 71 people on Monday, was similar to his subdued role at the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August. There, he briefly declared the Olympics open and said nothing more.
With approval ratings hovering around 14 percent, Temer has frequently avoided the spotlight, reinforcing his reputation as a consummate insider in the capital Brasilia.
Temer’s government has come under added pressure in recent weeks amid accusations of alleged influence trafficking by a close advisor and a rushed attempt by Congress to gut proposed anti-corruption legislation, which set off protests.
A downpour drenched thousands of mourners who gathered in the stadium to salute Chapecoense, which ascended from minor leagues in recent years to reach the final of a major South American tournament.
Reporting by Brad Haynes; Additional reporting by Lisandra Paraguassu; Editing by Alistair Bell