Thousands march to defend Brazil president

Rallies part of attempt by Dilma Rousseff to turn tide ahead of impeachment vote

BRASILIA • Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's fight against impeachment gathered speed when tens of thousands of people marched nationwide to oppose what they said was a "coup".

The rallies were part of a concerted attempt by Ms Rousseff to turn the tide ahead of an impeachment vote over her alleged manipulation of government accounts to disguise the depth of Brazil's recession during her 2014 re-election.

Further boosting Ms Rousseff, her chief ally in the spiralling political crisis - fiery ex-president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva - won a major court battle that removes him from the jurisdiction of a crusading anti-corruption judge.

The peaceful demonstrators, many waving the red flags of Ms Rousseff's Workers' Party, gathered late on Thursday in 31 cities, including Brasilia, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and northern centres like Recife.

"No to the coup", said one placard popular at the protests. "Democracy", read a large banner at the gathering in Rio, where more than 5,000 people turned out across the city some four months ahead of the 2016 Olympics.


A supporter of Ms Rousseff, Brazil's president, holding a banner reading “Coup Nevermore” during a demonstration in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, on Thursday. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

FOLLOWED PREVIOUS GOVERNMENTS

If I suffer impeachment, then it means that every previous government should have been impeached too, because all of them, without exception, did the same thing... I was always respecting the law.

BRAZILIAN PRESIDENT DILMA ROUSSEFF

Ms Rousseff held a rally on Thursday with artists and movie stars who support her, and said opponents trying to impeach her were merely trying to "give a democratic tint to a coup".

"If I suffer impeachment, then it means that every previous government should have been impeached too, because all of them, without exception, did the same thing. I was always respecting the law."

Aides said her government had had some success in drawing lawmakers from smaller political parties into her government's alliance, which was shattered by the departure on Tuesday of Brazil's largest political party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party.

"The reconfiguration of the base is ongoing," Ms Rousseff's spokesman Edinho Silva told journalists.

The corruption scandal, Ms Rousseff's Congressional weakness and a deepening economic recession have led to Brazil's worst political crisis since former president Fernando Collor de Mello resigned to avoid impeachment in 1992.

Up to three million people joined a protest in favour of her ouster on March 13, the largest demonstration in decades.

Ms Rousseff has been counting on ex-president Lula to lead the fight against impeachment in Congress and reorganise her flailing administration.

But the leftist heavyweight's comeback has been derailed by corruption charges linked to a sprawling probe led by federal Judge Sergio Moro into a bribes and embezzlement scheme at state oil company Petrobras.

Thursday's Supreme Court interim ruling - removing Judge Moro from the case - was a rare victory for Ms Rousseff, whose chances of defeating impeachment are thought to have nosedived since the collapse of her coalition.

Congress's preliminary impeachment commission is expected to begin deliberations on Tuesday before making a recommendation this month. Its recommendation is non-binding but will set the tone for a vote shortly after by the Lower House, where 342 votes out of 513, or two-thirds, are needed to launch an impeachment trial in the senate.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 02, 2016, with the headline 'Thousands march to defend Brazil president'. Print Edition | Subscribe