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Monday, August 29, 2016

Brazil's Rousseff says 'future of Brazil at stake' in Senate trial

Suspended President Dilma Rousseff told the Senate on Monday the future of Brazil was at stake in her impeachment trial as her conservative opponents were using trumped-up charges to oust her and roll back the social advances of the past 13 years.

The leftist leader, appearing before the Senate to defend herself in a process expected to remove her from office this week, said Brazil's economic elite and political opposition had sought to destabilize her government since her 2014 re-election.

Rousseff denied charges of breaking budgetary rules and denounced the nine-month impeachment process that has paralyzed Brazilian politics as a plot to overthrow her and protect the interests of Brazil's privileged classes, including the privatization of public assets such as massive subsalt oil reserves.

"What we are about to witness is a serious violation of the Constitution and a real coup d'etat," Rousseff said.

She warned that a conservative government would slash spending on social programs, undoing the gains of the past decade in the fight against poverty.

"The future of Brazil is at stake," she said.

Several hundred supporters chanted "Dilma, warrior of the Brazilian nation" outside Congress when her motorcade arrived.

A deep recession that many Brazilians blame her for and a huge corruption scandal involving state-run energy company Petrobras [PETR4.SA] have undermined Rousseff's popularity since she was re-elected in 2014.

Her vice president, Michel Temer, has been interim president since mid-May, when Rousseff was suspended after Congress decided it would continue the impeachment process that began in the lower house.

If the Senate convicts Rousseff on Tuesday or Wednesday as expected, Temer, 75, will be sworn in to serve the rest of her term through 2018. His business-friendly government vows to take unpopular austerity measures to plug a growing fiscal deficit that cost Brazil its investment-grade credit rating last year.

Appealing to undecided senators, Rousseff, 68, pointed to a lifetime fighting for democracy, from her arrest and torture by a military dictatorship for belonging to a left-wing guerrilla group to election as Brazil's first female president.

Twenty of her former Cabinet ministers were in the Senate gallery to support Rousseff, along with her political mentor and former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, founder of the Workers Party.

With the odds stacked against her, Rousseff's testimony appears to be aimed at making a point for the history books that her impeachment was a travesty, rather than a bid to sway the 81-seat Senate to block her ouster.

Temer is confident he has the two-thirds of the chamber needed to remove Rousseff, and he has planned an address to the nation on Wednesday before heading to China to attend the summit of the G20 group of leading economies.

"We need 54 votes and we expect to get at least 60," Temer's press spokesman, Marcio de Freitas, told Reuters.

He said the more votes Temer received, the stronger would be his mandate to take the difficult measures needed to restore confidence in Brazil's economy, which is caught in a two-year recession.

Rousseff is accused of using money from state banks to bolster spending during an election year in 2014. She says the money had no impact on overall deficit levels and was paid back in full the following year.

A survey published by O Estado de S.Paulo newspaper on Monday showed 53 senators would vote against Rousseff and only 19 would back her - nine short of the 28 she needs to avoid being ousted. Nine senators have not stated their position.

But even senators not convinced the accounting charges brought against Rousseff warrant her removal will vote against her because they do not believe she has enough support to govern anymore and end Brazil's political crisis.

"I will vote against her even though I think it is a tragedy to get rid of an elected president, but another 2-1/2 years of a Dilma government would be worse," centrist Senator Cristovam Buarque said in a phone interview.

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