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Rousseff in the balance


Rousseff in the balance

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BRASILIA – Supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff clashed with police outside the Senate on Wednesday ahead of a vote to put her on trial for breaking budget laws, that would mark the end of 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America’s biggest country.

If her opponents garner a simple majority in the 81-seat Senate, in a session that will last late into the night, Rousseff will be replaced on Thursday by Vice President Michel Temer as acting president for up to six months during the trial.

After speeches by half of the 70 senators who had registered to speak, 27 had indicated they would vote to put Rousseff on trial, versus only seven against.

Outside Congress, where a metal fence was erected to keep apart rival protests, about 6 000 backers of impeachment chanted “Out with Dilma” while police used pepper spray to disperse gangs of Rousseff supporters, who hurled flares back. One person was arrested for inciting violence.

Rousseff prepared for defeat by planning her exit from the presidential palace. Aides said she will dismiss her ministers on Thursday morning and tell them not to help a transition to a Temer government because she considers her impeachment illegal.

With a change of government imminent, Temer plans to swear in new ministers on Thursday afternoon, Senator Romero Jucá, head of his Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), told reporters.

Rousseff, who has been in office since 2011, has seen her popularity crushed by Brazil’s worst recession since the 1930s and a two-year probe into a vast kickback scheme at state-run oil company Petrobras.

The prospect of business-friendly Temer taking power has driven Brazilian financial markets sharply higher this year, on hopes he could cut a massive fiscal deficit, restore investor confidence and return the economy to growth.

The political crisis has deepened Brazil’s recession and comes at a time when Brazil hoped to be shining on the world stage as it prepares to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in August.

The Supreme Court rebuffed a last-ditch bid by Rousseff to halt the Senate vote with an injunction. Justice Teori Zavascki rejected as “legally implausible” the government’s argument that impeachment was flawed because it was started out of revenge by the former speaker of the lower house.

In a momentous session followed by many Brazilians live on television, each senator was given the chance to speak. A final vote could take place after midnight (0300 GMT on Thursday).

Brasilia-based consultancy ARKO Advice projected that the upper chamber would vote 57-21 to try Rousseff. The figure amounted to 78 votes rather than 81 due to absences and abstentions.

That would indicate Rousseff’s opponents may already have the two-thirds of the vote needed to convict her at the end of the trial and remove her definitively from office. If that happened, Temer would then fulfil the remainder of her mandate until elections in 2018.

Rousseff, 68, was chairwoman of Petrobras at the time when much of the graft occurred, but she has not been accused of corruption. She stands charged with manipulating government accounts to disguise the size of Brazil’s fiscal deficit to allow her to boost public spending during her 2014 re-election campaign, a practice employed by previous presidents.

The president’s plan to dismiss all her cabinet if and when the Senate suspends her will force Temer to hit the ground running, since he was counting on a gradual transition to a new cabinet.

Two Rousseff aides said, however, that the dismissal of her cabinet would exclude Central Bank Governor Alexandre Tombini, and the current sports minister, who is scrambling to prepare for the Rio 2016 games. (Reuters)