Tense Brazil impeachment trial hears charges

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BRASÌLIA: Accusations and occasional angry yells flew in an impeachment trial against Brazil’s suspended president Dilma Rousseff, expected to end 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America’s biggest economy.

The warm vibe of the Rio Olympic Games gave way to tension as senators launched hearings in the emotionally charged affair, with Rousseff facing removal from office within days.

Chief justice Ricardo Lewandowski declared the trial open and later briefly suspended it as senators yelled at each other while debating procedural matters.

Media calculate that a majority of senators will find Rousseff, 68, guilty of cooking the budget books to mask the depth of economic problems during her 2014 re-election campaign.


If she is removed from office, her center-right former vice president turned rival Michel Temer will be sworn in to serve until 2018.

Rousseff’s rivals blame her for economic chaos and are out to crush her Workers’ Party (PT).

“I am going to vote for impeachment, which is a political instrument that permits us to remove from power anyone who is misusing it,” said Simone Tebet, a senator from Temer’s PMDB party.

‘Fight for democracy’

Tortured and imprisoned by the 1970s dictatorship for membership in a Marxist urban guerrilla group, Rousseff has sworn to resist what she calls a coup.

“We will fight to reinforce democracy in our country with the same force that I fought against the military dictatorship,” she told supporters late Wednesday in Brasilia.

During Thursday’s opening session, her allies voiced procedural objections in vain.

A prominent Anti-Rousseff senator, Cassio Cunha Lima, accused them of “procrastinating.”

Senators then heard the first evidence from a witness for Rousseff’s accusers.

The trial will climax Monday when the president, who was suspended from office in May, is set to address the Senate herself.

A vote is then expected within 48 hours, with a two-thirds majority of the 81 senators required to bring Rousseff down.

Senator Raimundo Lira, a Temer ally and strong backer of impeachment, told AFP that senators “have already made up their minds and I don’t think there will be any change at the vote.”

Rousseff’s allies refused to give up hope she could grab back the momentum with a hard-hitting appearance.

“I think it is possible to reverse the process,” said Senator Gleisi Hoffman, who held angry exchanges in the chamber with opponents on Thursday.

“There are senators who may have supported impeachment but have said they could change their minds if it is shown that there was no crime.”

Large protests are expected Monday. The authorities set up a huge metal barricade on the esplanade outside Congress to separate rival demonstrators.

Corruption

The charges against Rousseff focus on her use of unauthorized state loans to cover budget gaps. She argues that the practice has long been accepted by a succession of governments.

Unofficially, Rousseff is taking the blame for Brazil’s slide into economic decline, mixed with a giant corruption scandal over state oil giant Petrobras.

Although she has not been accused of stealing from Petrobras herself, many of her close allies on the left, as well as opponents on the right, have been charged.

Temer, who has served as acting president since May, is hardly more popular than Rousseff. A recent opinion poll put his approval rating at just 14 percent.

However, his center-right coalition and choice of market-friendly ministers have raised expectations that he can get the economy back on track.

The economy shrank 3.8 percent in 2015 and is forecast to drop around 3.3 percent again this year, a historic recession. Inflation is at about nine percent and unemployment at 11 percent.

“I agree that Dilma must leave power. Leaders must be responsible for their actions,” Mara Campos, 50, said waiting at a bus stop in Brasilia.

“But I am very worried because this trial is traumatic.” AFP

AFP/CC

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