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LISBON: Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was welcomed in Lisbon on Saturday at the start of his first visit to Europe since being elected president.

As he strives to improve foreign ties and his country's image abroad, Lula arrived in Portugal on Friday for a five-day visit taking place amid a controversy over the president's recent marks about the Ukraine war.

He has angered many in the West for suggesting Ukraine and Russia are to blame for the conflict that began when Moscow invaded its neighbour in February 2022.

Two Brazilian officials told Reuters that Lula - keen to protect Brazil's neutrality - was expected to avoid criticism of the Western role in the Ukraine war during his visit.

Lula's visit, with other Brazilian government officials, "continues the agenda of relaunching Brazil's diplomatic relations with its main partners," the government said in a document setting out the agenda.

Brazil's Lula condemns invasion of Ukraine

Brazil's former President Jair Bolsonaro did not visit Portugal during his four years in office.

Lula attended a welcoming ceremony on Saturday morning outside Lisbon's Jerónimos Monastery, which included a military parade and the singing of national anthems. A number of people wearing red, the colour of Lula's Workers Party, gathered to show their support.

Carrying a flag and a sign, two Ukraine supporters were not allowed to stand near the ceremony's area because police officers told them they had not requested authorisation to protest.

Angry about Lula's comments about the war, the Ukrainian community in Portugal held a demonstration outside the Brazilian embassy on Friday.

Portugal, home to around 300,000 Brazilians, and the South American nation will sign various agreements during the visit related to technology, energy transition, tourism and culture.

Brazil has said Portugal could be an "important ally" to help South America's Mercosur bloc to negotiate the major free trade deal with the European Union. It has been on hold due to various climate concerns.

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