Brazil impeachment trail will run on during summer Olympics

Brazil will continue with the impeachment trial of President Dilma Rousseff, who is accused of breaking budget rules, despite the Rio 2016 summer Olympics.

Silvia Izquierdo/AP Photo/File
A demonstrator holds a sign that reads in Portuguese; "Coup" during a protest against the impeachment proceedings of Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (May 10, 2016). The impeachments will continue throughout the summer, despite the Olympics.

Brazil will welcome the world to the summer Olympics with suspended President Dilma Rousseff still on trial for breaking budget rules, government sources said on Friday, despite the interim government's efforts to fast-track the process before the Games.

Heads of state attending the opening ceremony on Aug. 5 in Rio de Janeiro at Rousseff's invitation will instead find themselves shaking hands with Interim President Michel Temer, a close presidential advisor said.

Temer, who took power last week when the Senate voted to put Rousseff on trial on charges of breaking budget laws, had hoped her trial would be over before the Games so there would be no doubt over his leadership of Latin America's largest nation.

If Rousseff is convicted, she would be removed definitively from office and Temer would be in the post until elections due in 2018.

Several Latin American leaders have criticized Rousseff's impeachment as unconstitutional and questioned the legitimacy of Temer's government. Rousseff denies the charges.

Senate Speaker Renan Calheiros has suspended the chamber's annual recess in July so that the trial is not interrupted.

But Senate staffers say that the soonest it can be concluded will be early- to mid-September because evidence that Rousseff broke budget laws must be provided, witnesses called up, and her defense allowed fair time to make its case.

"The ideal would be a four-month trial ending in September. Six months is too long," said Senator Rose de Freitas, of Temer's PMDB party, who sits on the Senate impeachment committee that will meet on Tuesday to decide on the pace of proceedings.

"It is best to hurry up with the trial, without undermining due process, so that the policies this country badly needs will have political legitimacy and legal security."

Temer needs to confirm Rousseff's ouster from office as quickly as possible to gain the legitimacy he needs to push through tough measures to salvage Brazil's tanking economy.

He has unveiled an economic team led by Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles - a former central banker - tasked with plugging a fiscal deficit that grew dramatically under Rousseff to more than 10 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) last year. Brazil lost its investment grade credit rating in December.

The Temer aide said the acting president would like to be confirmed in the job by August or September at the latest to get on with the business at hand.

"Once the impeachment is out of the way, it will become easier for us to negotiate economic reforms," the aide said, asking not be named.

Rousseff's handful of supporters in the Senate are expected to resort to delaying tactics to try to drag out proceedings as long as possible. If the trial has not reached a conclusion in 180 days, by Nov. 8, she can return to the presidency.

Temer's main challenge will be to push through reform of Brazil's generous pension system that weigh down heavily on government accounts. Changes will meet resistance from Rousseff's Workers party and labor unions.

Leaders of Temer's Brazilian Democratic Movement Party want to hold off welfare reform until after the October municipal elections so as not to harm its electoral prospects.

Rousseff's defense team has not decided yet whether she will appear in the Senate to defend herself against what she has called a "coup d'etat" to illegally remove a legitimate leftist government. Her aides did not respond to requests for comment.

When first introduced, the impeachment measure was viewed as a longshot, as The Christian Science Monitor reported at the time, with experts betting against it leaving the lower Chamber of Deputies.

But the momentum built as Brazilians seethed over numerous corruption scandals linked to Petrobras and daily announcements of job losses added to a growing desperation. The Brazilian economy is expected to contract nearly 4 percent after an equally dismal 2015 and inflation and unemployment are hovering around 10 percent, underscoring a sharp decline after the South American giant enjoyed stellar growth for more than a decade.

Polls have said a majority of Brazilians supported impeaching Rousseff, though they also suggest the public is wary about those in the line of succession to take her place.

"Dilma is a bad president and waiting until 2018 was a horrible option," said cab driver Alessandro Novais in Rio de Janeiro, minutes after the vote. "I don't think Temer will be much better, but at least we can try something different to overcome the crisis."

The final phase of the impeachment trial will be headed by the president of the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski. On Tuesday, he told reporters that it was hard to predict how long the trial will last because legal appeals to the top court could delay the proceedings.

Lewandowski is due to end his term by mid-September and has said he wants to see the impeachment trial through to the end before then.

Editing by Frances Kerry

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