Brazilian President refuses to resign

BRASÍLIA • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said she had committed no crime and would never resign despite corruption allegations, as the scandal threatening her government escalated with dozens of new arrests.

In a defiant speech from the Presidential Palace, the leftist leader on Tuesday accused her opponents of seeking to stage a "coup against democracy" with the impeachment proceedings and mass protests calling for her ouster.

"I will never resign," she told a cheering crowd of supporters. "Not under any circumstances." Ms Rousseff's presidency appears to be in peril as she fights impeachment, protests, recession and scandal.

And her decision to call her predecessor and mentor, Mr Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to the rescue backfired last week when a Supreme Court judge blocked his appointment as her chief of staff over pending corruption charges.

Another Supreme Court judge has refused to rule on Mr Lula's request to overturn that decision.

However, yet another high court judge requested that the anti-corruption investigation hand over Mr Lula's case, on grounds that it affects people who are under immunity, such as Ms Rousseff. The full Supreme Court is expected to issue a definitive ruling on Mr Lula's appointment, which comes with ministerial immunity, some time after it reconvenes on March 30.

Mr Lula, who presided over a booming Brazil from 2003 to 2011, faces money-laundering charges related to a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal centred on state oil company Petrobras that has unleashed a political crisis.

Investigators say the ruling Workers' Party was directly involved in the corruption, which Petrobras estimates cost it more than US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion).

Ms Rousseff is accused of manipulating the government's accounts to boost public spending and hide the magnitude of the recession.

Government lawyer Jose Eduardo Cardozo said the case amounts to a "pretext for impeachment". Senate Speaker Renan Calheiros, a centrist seen as close to Ms Rousseff, cautioned the congressional committee that it needed solid evidence. "An impeachment that doesn't specify the crime committed by the president of the republic has another name," he said, alluding to the pro-government camp's cries of a "coup".

Newspaper O Globo reported on Tuesday that Ms Rousseff's camp now calculates the number of lawmakers in the Lower House of Congress who are loyal to the President has fallen from about 250 two weeks ago to 172.

That is dangerously close to the minimum of 171 needed to block a two-thirds vote to open an impeachment trial.

Sixty-eight per cent of Brazilians favour impeachment, according to pollsters.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 24, 2016, with the headline 'Brazilian President refuses to resign'. Print Edition | Subscribe