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Rio de Janeiro elects evangelical bishop as Brazilian city's next mayor

Marcelo Crivella, bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, in a 2014 file photo.

Marcelo Crivella, bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, in a 2014 file photo.  (ap)

Known to the world for its skin-baring beach culture and exuberant Carnival parades, Rio de Janeiro overwhelmingly chose an evangelical bishop as a mayor Sunday, signaling a resurgence of conservatism in Latin America's largest nation.

Sen. Marcelo Crivella easily beat his opponent, socialist state Rep. Marcelo Freixo, taking 59 percent of the votes against 41 percent in the municipal runoff election. Rio was one of 57 Brazilian cities holding runoff votes.

The conservative Crivella's triumph is the latest display of widespread anger at Brazil's established left-wing parties amid the country's worst recession in decades and the aftermath of an impeachment trial that threw the Workers' Party out after 13 years in power. It's also a sign of the rise of evangelical churches like Pentecostals.

Although Crivella had run and lost in previous mayoral and gubernatorial elections, in opinion polls that preceded the election he was clearly favored by Cariocas, the name by which Rio residents are known.

"I pray to God that my public life, as rocky as it has been, can teach all Cariocas that our time always comes when we do not give up," Crivella told a crowd of supporters Sunday.

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Crivella, 59, is the nephew of Edir Macedo, founder of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, the main Pentecostal denomination in Brazil. Although Brazil is the largest Roman Catholic nation, the growing evangelical community now accounts for one-fifth of the population of around 200 million.

Known for religious songs on YouTube with titles like "Jesus Cures" and "I'm Israel," Crivella drew criticism for remarks against gays, Roman Catholics and people of African religions. In a book he wrote after an evangelical mission in Africa, he said that gay people are victims of a "terrible evil," that the Roman Catholic Church "preaches demonic doctrines," and that Hinduism and African religions shelter "unclean spirits."

Soccer was part of the race in the city of Belo Horizonte, where voters gave a successful club executive the victory. Atletico Mineiro chairman Alexandre Kalil defeated retired soccer goalkeeper João  Leite with 53 percent of the votes against 47 percent.

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