Weak turnout at Brazil impeachment protests

A demonstrator attends a protest against the impeachment proceedings against Brazil's President Dilma Rouseff, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Dec 8, 2015. The banner reads, "Dilma stay!"
A demonstrator attends a protest against the impeachment proceedings against Brazil's President Dilma Rouseff, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Dec 8, 2015. The banner reads, "Dilma stay!" PHOTO: REUTERS

BRASILIA (AFP) - Protests calling for the impeachment of embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff saw weak turnout on Sunday (Dec 13) morning, with tens of thousands fewer people than expected attending rallies seen as a barometer of national mood.

The country's first female president, a leftist, is battling for her political life, as she stands accused of illegal budgeting maneuvers that she says were long-accepted practices by previous governments.

On Tuesday, pro-Rousseff and opposition deputies pushed and screamed during voting to form an impeachment commission.

But protesters Sunday were much calmer, marching peacefully behind a giant inflatable Rousseff dressed up as Pinocchio in Brasilia.

Police said some 6,000 protesters were part of the demonstration, while organizers pegged the number closer to 30,000.

Either is a far cry from the 60,000 demonstrators which authorities prepared for, military police commander Alexandre Sergio told AFP.

In ten other states, notably in the north and northeast, mobilization was also weak.

Protests in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo, Brazil's two largest cities, were not expected to begin until late afternoon.

However some 6,000 protesters were already gathered at Rio's Copacabana beach holding placards that read "Impeachment now!" and "Out with the corrupt!"

"We expect fewer people today than for other protests when we had two or three months to organise. This here today is a sign that people will come back out in the streets and are open to impeachment," Kim Kataguiri, national coordinator for one of the biggest anti-government movements, told AFP in Sao Paulo.

Turnout at Sunday's protests is seen as an indicator of national mood, which could influence Congress' leanings on impeachment.

With only 10 per cent popularity ratings, Rousseff has little political muscle and the impeachment push in part reflects the country's anger at multiple crises, including a corruption scandal at state oil giant Petrobras.

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court suspended for one week the commission which will recommend whether or not Congress should impeach the president, citing irregularities.