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Brazil Senate debates impeachment end game

Residents of Rio de Janeiro demonstrate against interim president Michel Temer/AFP

Residents of Rio de Janeiro demonstrate against interim president Michel Temer/AFP

BRASíLIA, Brazil, Aug 10 – Brazil’s Senate on Tuesday debated before voting on whether to send suspended president Dilma Rousseff to an impeachment trial, bringing the Olympic host country’s political crisis to a climax.

At the start of the marathon session, Supreme Court President Ricardo Lewandowski reminded senators that they were about to “exercise one of the most serious tasks under the constitution.”

Rousseff, a one-time Marxist guerrilla, has likened the impeachment drive to a coup d’etat.

Rousseff’s opponents only need a simple majority of the 81 senators’ votes. They look set to clear the threshold easily, although the debate is expected to stretch into the early hours of Wednesday.

“What we are talking about today is defending the constitution and democracy itself. Those who commit crimes must be held responsible for them,” said Senator Aecio Neves, one of Rousseff’s lead rivals.

“The conditions are firmly in place for removing Dilma Rousseff.”

About 250 of Rousseff’s supporters demonstrated in central Sao Paulo while in the Senate chamber in Brasilia her allies defended her.

“Today is not a good day for our democracy,” said one, Senator Paulo Rocha. Against her, he said, “there is a political alliance that smells of a coup.”

Impeachment vote looms

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It is the final vote before the one that will decide Rousseff’s ultimate political fate, when a two-thirds majority would be needed to strip her of her power and end 13 years of leftist rule in Brazil.

That vote is expected to take place around the end of August, just days after the Rio Olympics end.

The Senate suspended Rousseff, Brazil’s first woman president, on May 12 over accusations of illegal accounting practices and fiddling the budget to mask a slumping economy.

The timing could hardly be more awkward for Brazil, which was meant to be showcasing its burgeoning economic clout and political stability with South America’s first Olympics.

Instead, unpopular interim president Michel Temer formerly the vice president is fighting to drag the country out of its worst recession in decades as the Senate debates what to do with his former boss and bitter enemy.

Rousseff’s allies in the Workers’ Party point out that many of the lawmakers accusing her are implicated in corruption cases arguably far more serious than accounting tricks.

But her enemies say her fate is already sealed.

“The president is ever more isolated, a very pronounced isolation that has only gotten worse in recent weeks and now even includes her own party,” said Senator Aloysio Nunes of the opposition party PSDB.

“I have no doubt that the vote will be in favor of impeachment, as it will be at the final trial,” he told AFP ahead of the Senate session.

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Messy end game 

The impeachment trial is set to open around August 25 four days after the Olympics closing ceremony and last five days, concluding with a judgment vote.

Rousseff, 68, was jailed and tortured by the country’s military regime in the 1970s when she belonged to an urban guerrilla group.

She rode political mentor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva’s coattails to power when term limits forced him to step down in 2011.

Brazil’s booming economy later sank into its worst recession in 80 years and a huge corruption scandal erupted at state oil giant Petrobras.

Rousseff is not facing corruption charges in the wide-ranging scandal. But she has been tainted by its stain on the Workers’ Party, which is accused of lining its coffers with some of the missing billions.

If Rousseff is removed from office, Temer, her center-right running mate turned opponent, will become the full-fledged president until the next elections in 2018.

He has urged the Senate to move quickly, saying “people need to know who the president is.”

Disgust with the entire political class is widespread in Brazil.

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Temer, 75, presided over the Olympics opening ceremony Friday, drawing boos from the crowd just as Rousseff did at the opener of the 2014 World Cup.

Controversially, several people have been expelled from Olympic events for holding up signs calling for Temer’s resignation.

A judge ruled Tuesday that peaceful protests must be allowed in the stadiums.

Rio’s Olympic organizing committee said it would appeal.

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