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SAO PAULO – Brazil's presidential candidates held their first debate Thursday ahead of October's election, but jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was not allowed to participate despite leading in the polls.
Conservative Jair Bolsonaro, second in pre-election polls, was the main target of debaters during the encounter which took place 59 days before the first round of voting.
Da Silva currently leads presidential polls with more than 30 percent support, but will likely be barred from running by electoral authorities following a corruption conviction. His support level is more than Bolsonaro's and centrist candidate Marina Silva's put together.
The only presidential hopeful to mention da Silva's absence from the debate was Guilherme Boulos, who has minimal support and runs for Brazil's Liberty and Socialism Party.
"Good night to President Lula, who should be here, but is in unduly in jail in Curitiba while (President Michel) Temer is free in Brasilia," Boulos said. Da Silva is commonly known as Lula.
Da Silva denies any wrongdoing and has vowed to register his candidacy on Aug.15.
Bolsonaro, who leads the polls if the former president's candidacy is not considered, did not respond to accusations that he is "racist, sexist and homophobic."
Former Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles said in the debate that "jobs cannot be created by screaming," in a reference to Bolsonaro's style. And right-leaning candidate Alvaro Dias accused Bolsonaro of defending the position that women should be paid less than men.
The deputy responded that free-market policies should guide employers.
Bolsonaro tried to strike a conciliatory tone during the debate.
Earlier, a Brazilian federal court rejected a request from da Silva to be present at the debate.