Brazil president offers to take in priests persecuted in Nicaragua

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday offered refuge in his country to Catholic clerics under pressure in Nicaragua, where he said they had endured "cruel persecution" by the leftist leadership.

Addressing the opening session of the United Nations General Assembly weeks ahead of elections at home, the right-wing leader portrayed Brazil as a firm advocate of religious freedom.

"Brazil opens its doors to welcome the Catholic priests and nuns who have suffered cruel persecution by the dictatorial regime in Nicaragua," he said, without providing specifics.

"Brazil repudiates religious persecution wherever it occurs in the world."

Nicaraguan police arrested Bishop Rolando Alvarez, an outspoken critic of President Daniel Ortega's government, on August 19, accusing him of "destabilizing and provocative" activities.

The arrest drew fierce condemnation from Washington and the European Union, which both warned of Nicaragua's increasing suppression of religious and opposition figures, civil society, human rights defenders, journalists and others.

Brazil is the world's largest majority-Catholic nation and Bolsonaro himself was born into a Catholic family.

He has also grown close to the country's evangelical Christian churches over the course of his four-year term, notably in recent months as he trails in polls ahead of the October election.

Bolsonaro has been a fierce defender of conservative positions such as banning abortion, an issue he mentioned in his speech in which he repeated his "repudiation of gender ideology."