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Huge crowds to demand Rousseff’s impeachment in day of protests

Evaristo SA, AFP | President Dilma Roussef's approval ratings have plummeted amid economic woes and a festering corruption scandal.

Protesters are expected to rally in more than 200 towns and cities on Sunday to demand Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment, injecting more volatility into an increasingly toxic political struggle.


Rousseff, less than a year into her second term, is on the ropes as the world's seventh largest economy and host of the 2016 Rio Olympics slides into recession.

Austerity measures have replaced the economic go-go years fuelled by Chinese demand for commodities, while a bribes and embezzlement scandal spreading ever deeper through the ranks of the country's elite has tainted Rousseff and her leftist Workers' Party, even if she herself has not been directly implicated.

Now demonstrators in Rio de Janeiro, the capital Brasilia, the financial powerhouse Sao Paulo and scores of other cities are expected to back calls in congress for Dilma, as the president is commonly known, to be impeached.

"Everyone on the street!... Time for impeachment!" Revoltados ON LINE, one of the three groups organizing the "mega-demonstration", declared on its Facebook page.

At least 600,000 people turned out against Rousseff in April and since then the mood, like the economy, has only darkened.

A key figure in the fragile governing coalition, House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, defected in July to lead the push for impeachment, on grounds of alleged government accounting irregularities.

And even if many analysts doubt impeachment will proceed, the threat has added to an atmosphere of crisis. Rousseff, who was tortured in the 1970s when she was a leftist guerrilla during Brazil's military dictatorship, likens impeachment talk to a "coup d’état".

"The political environment has really deteriorated," said Gabriel Petrus, a political consultant at Barral M Jorge Associates in Brasilia.

Petrobras scandal

At the rotten heart of Brazilian politics is the mammoth bribes and embezzlement scandal centred on state-owned oil giant Petrobras.

Prosecutors have brought charges against high-ranking executives and politicians, shaking Brazil's establishment and feeding growing public ire.

The roll call of suspects is a Who's Who of Brazilian movers and shakers, including the billionaire head of the global construction company Odebrecht and a navy admiral once tasked with overseeing a secret nuclear programme.

Even Rousseff's presidential predecessor, Workers' Party hero Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, is being investigated in an unrelated influence-peddling probe. A former top aide of Lula's was arrested this month on accusations that he was a chief instigator in the Petrobras scheme.

Rousseff herself has not been accused but she chaired the board at Petrobras between 2003-2010, when much of the alleged corruption was flourishing. The treasurer of the Workers' Party was among those arrested in April.

Not that her enemies have anything to celebrate: Cunha himself is alleged to have demanded a $5 million bribe in the Petrobras corruption network.

8% approval

Against this ugly backdrop, Sunday's rallies will take on a more overtly political tone.

For the first time in a series of street protests, the business-friendly opposition Brazilian Social Democratic Party (PSDB) has endorsed the march. PSDB leader Aecio Neves, whom Rousseff narrowly defeated in 2014, will be there himself.

But behind the scenes, Rousseff is looking for a way out.

Earlier this week she and Senate President Renan Calheiros, who is also being investigated in the Petrobras affair, agreed to a market-pleasing package of reforms called the Brazil Agenda. The deal, which takes Rousseff ever further from her socialist roots, could help lure her rightwing opponents from the cliff edge by giving them a plausible reason to cooperate.

The problem for Rousseff is that while she may escape her opponents, her rock-bottom approval ratings show she has lost the base that once accepted her as Lula's anointed successor.

According to an opinion poll released earlier this month, a mere 8% of people surveyed approve of Rousseff’s administration.

Petrus, who knows the president personally, says Brazil is not about to turn into a basket case like he feels Venezuela is. "It's a democracy," he said.

But that doesn't mean things are going to get easy for Rousseff.

"She doesn't like politics," he said. "She's not a politician. That may explain why she looks so sad."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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