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Brazil's Suspended Rousseff Vows to Fight Impeachment Vote by Senate

  • Ken Schwartz

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks after leaving Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, May 12, 2016.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks after leaving Planalto presidential palace in Brasilia, May 12, 2016.

Brazil's suspended President Dilma Rousseff is vowing to fight back after the Senate voted, 55-22, for an impeachment trial for alleged corruption and to temporarily remove her from power.

Flanked by weeping cabinet ministers, Rousseff used what may be her last presidential palace speech to again insist she did nothing wrong and assert her belief that the impeachment is a coup attempt.

"What is at stake is respect for the ballot box, the sovereign will of the Brazilian people and the constitution ... this is a tragic hour for our country. ... I never imagined that it would be necessary to fight once more against a coup," she said.

The 68-year-old leftist waved at least a temporary goodbye to her supporters and retreated back into the palace, where she will be allowed to live while the trial is underway.

Members of Brazil's Senate react after a vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff for breaking budget laws in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016.

Members of Brazil's Senate react after a vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff for breaking budget laws in Brasilia, Brazil, May 12, 2016.

Rousseff's former ally-turned-political-enemy, Michel Temer, will take over as interim president. The conservative Temer has started putting together what political observers say will be a business-friendly cabinet. Its main task will be tackling the country's deep recession and reforming the pension system.

"Now is not a moment for celebrations, but rather for profound reflection," Temer said in his first statement as Brazilian leader. "We must significantly improve the business environment for the private sector ... and rebalance the government's budget."

Temer has already named former central bank chief Henrique Meirelles as his finance minister. He also has to deal with the mosquito-borne Zika virus — a major problem for Brazil as Rio de Janeiro tries to clean up polluted waterways and spruce up the city in time for hosting the Olympic Games in August.

Temer said the Olympics will be a rare opportunity to show the world Brazil is what he calls "a serious country."

Rousseff is a former Marxist guerilla who fought against the Brazilian military dictatorship in the 1970s.

She is accused of manipulating the size of the budget deficit to make the Brazilian economy look healthier than it was in order to boost her chances of re-election in 2014.

"As she approached the election in 2014, it was pretty clear that the economy was not doing as well as she hoped, and so she engaged in some creative accounting to try to make the situation look better," Latin American specialist Sean Burgess of the Australian National University told VOA.

Supporters of President Dilma Rousseff shout during clashes with the police outside Congress, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 11, 2016.

Supporters of President Dilma Rousseff shout during clashes with the police outside Congress, in Brasilia, Brazil, May 11, 2016.

It is still questionable, Burgess said, whether or not her actions were illegal, and the push for impeachment may be fueled by other lawmakers' desires to deflect attention from themselves.

Rousseff likes to point out that a number of other lawmakers and Brazilian politicians, including Temer, are also facing charges of corruption.

But Temer, who has been implicated in a graft scandal in the state-owned Petrobas oil company, promised mot to weaken the investigation.

Two-thirds of the Brazilian senate is needed to convict Rousseff and permanently remove her from office.

In Washington, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday that the U.S. believes Brazilian institutions are "sufficiently mature and durable to withstand the political turmoil."

A spokesman for United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says Ban trusts that Brazilian authorities will adhere to the rule of law and the constitution.

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