30 Aug 2016

Dilma Rousseff tells impeachment trial Brazil one step away from coup

7:17 am on 30 August 2016

Brazil's suspended president Dilma Rousseff warned that her conservative opponents using trumped-up charges to oust her and roll back the social advances of the past 13 years.

Dilma Rousseff

Dilma Rousseff is accused of illegally manipulating the budget to hide a growing deficit. Photo: AFP

Mrs Rousseff defended her record at her impeachment trial in the Senate where she is being cross-examined. Senators are due to vote later this week on whether to remove her from office for good or reinstate her.

She is accused of moving funds between government budgets - which is illegal under Brazilian law - to hide a growing deficit.

Her critics say she was trying to plug deficit holes in popular social programmes to boost her chances of being re-elected for a second term in October 2014.

"We are one step away from a real coup d'etat," she told the Senate. "I did not commit the crimes that I am arbitrarily and unjustly accused of."

The leftist leader said Brazil's economic elite had sought to destabilise her government since her narrow re-election to a second four-year term in 2014.

She denied charges of breaking budgetary rules and said the impeachment process that had paralysed Brazilian politics for nine months was a plot to protect the interests of the privileged classes.

Ms Rousseff began her defence by reminding senators that she had been re-elected by more than 54 million voters.

She reminded senators of her past as a resistance fighter who opposed military rule and said that even when she was tortured she continued to fight.

Ms Rousseff warned of the dangers she said the interim government of acting President Michel Temer posed.

Ms Rousseff said Mr Temer's administration would limit public spending and act in the interest of a small economic elite.

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

She ended her defence by again talking about her time in captivity, briefly choking with emotion when she mentioned the torture she had endured "for days on end".

She thanked those senators who had fought for her to be cleared of the charges before asking those who were opposed to her to "vote against the impeachment, vote for democracy!".

Senators from her Workers' Party stood up and applauded once she had finished, while her opponents sat in their seats stony-faced.

The 68-year-old Rousseff, an engineer who served as head of the state oil company Petrobras, was hand picked by the founder of the Workers Party, ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to succeed him when he stepped aside in 2012, despite her lack of political experience.

After riding the commodities boom in her first term, Rousseff saw her popularity dwindle to single figures this year amid a deep recession that many Brazilians blame on her government's interventionist policies and a huge corruption scandal involving Petrobras under the Workers Party government.

For her to be removed from the presidency permanently, 54 of the 81 senators would have to vote for her impeachment.

If Ms Rousseff is impeached, acting President Michel Temer will serve out her term, which ends in December 2018.

Mr Temer, 75, has been interim president since mid-May, when Mrs Rousseff was suspended after Congress decided it would continue the impeachment process that began in the lower house.

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.

- Reuters / BBC

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