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UPDATE 3-Brazil judge drops objection to Rousseff impeachment proceedings
December 17, 2015 / 1:45 AM / 2 years ago

UPDATE 3-Brazil judge drops objection to Rousseff impeachment proceedings

(Adds comment from lower house speaker Cunha)
    By Anthony Boadle
    BRASILIA, Dec 16 (Reuters) - A controversial secret
congressional vote that stacked an impeachment committee with
opponents of President Dilma Rousseff was found legitimate on
Wednesday by the Supreme Court justice who suspended proceedings
against her last week.
    Judge Luiz Fachin's unexpected recommendation must still be
voted on by the full court, but it was a new setback for the
unpopular Rousseff in her battle to block impeachment for
allegedly breaching Brazil's budget laws last year.
    Fachin, who was named to the top court by Rousseff in June,
also argued before his fellow justices that the Senate does not
have any authority to review the grounds for impeachment once
the lower house votes to accept the charges by two-thirds of its
members.
    The full court will vote on the issue on Thursday afternoon.
If it adopts his view, the Senate will have to open an
impeachment trial right after the house approves the charges. A
move to trial would suspend Rousseff for up to six months, with
Vice President Michel Temer taking over as Senators debate to
remove her permanently or clear her, returning her to office.
 
    "The house decides on the admissibility of impeachment, the
Senate judges ... it must necessarily begin a trial," Fachin
told the 11-member court, rejecting most of the complaints
lodged against the impeachment case by the Communist Party of
Brazil, a small ruling coalition ally.
    The impeachment proceedings, started this month by
Rousseff's archenemy, lower house Speaker Eduardo Cunha, risk
plunging Brazil deeper into political turmoil as the government
struggles to tackle the deepest recession since the early 1990s
and as dozens of politicians, among them Cunha, are the targets
of a massive corruption probe.
    
    PROSECUTORS WANT CUNHA TO STEP DOWN
    Late on Wednesday, federal prosecutors, who have charged
Cunha with taking bribes, asked the Supreme Court to order him
to step down from his position as speaker. 
    Cunha said the move by prosecutors, who also had police
search his homes and office this week, was aimed at shifting
attention away from Rousseff.
    "I think this is one more political move by those who chose
to investigate me and one more retaliation for launching the
impeachment process," he told reporters.  
    The impeachment request is based on the allegation that
Rousseff used accounting tricks to ramp up spending beyond legal
limits during her re-election campaign last year. She says she
committed no crime and the bid to oust her is a "coup" against
her democratic election.
    "They will not achieve anything by attacking my record,
which is known; I love my country and I'm honest," she told a
convention of youth groups late Wednesday in Brasilia. "I will
fight against the illegitimate interruption of my mandate using
all the tools that the rule of law gives me."    
    The secret ballot in the lower house, convened by Cunha,
allowed members of Rousseff's fragile ruling coalition to break
ranks and vote against the unpopular president. Opponents of
Rousseff were able to approve an impeachment committee stacked
with legislators hostile to her.  
    However, Fachin stepped in to prevent the impeachment
committee from meeting, pending a Supreme Court ruling.
 
    If the house committee gives the green light to impeachment
proceedings, two-thirds of the entire lower house must vote to
move ahead with them. Rousseff would then be tried before the
Senate, which would also require a two-thirds majority to remove
her from office. 
    Rousseff is believed to have enough votes currently to block
impeachment in the lower chamber - 171 of the 513 seats - though
a growing rift with her main coalition ally, the fractious
Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, threatens to reduce her
narrow margin.
    Rousseff's position is stronger in the Senate, her last line
of defense, but if the impeachment case drags on into next year
public pressure on the Senate to remove her could grow due to
the recession that is fueling inflation and unemployment.

 (Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn, Tom
Brown Andrew Hay, Jeb Blount and Leslie Adler)

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