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Brazil's Rousseff: 'Will Never Resign;' Lula Meets Senate Leader

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff smiles as she attends a meeting with jurists at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, March 22, 2016.

President Dilma Rousseff said on Tuesday she will not resign in Brazil's worst political crisis in two decades, calling an opposition move to impeach her a "coup d'etat" against democratic rule because she had committed no crime.

Rousseff urged Brazil's Supreme Court to remain impartial in the crisis that has threatened to topple her government as opponents seek her impeachment in Congress amid a widespread corruption scandal that has reached her inner circle.

"I will never resign under any circumstances," the embattled president said in a speech to legal experts. "I have committed no crime that would warrant shortening my term."

The head of the Brazilian Senate echoed Rousseff's position on impeachment after a meeting with her predecessor and political mentor, former President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, as the pair work hand in hand to shore up a crumbling coalition.

Opposition parties have launched impeachment proceedings against Rousseff for allegedly manipulating government accounts to allow her government to spend more in the run-up to her 2014 re-election. The president could be suspended as soon as May if her supporters do not block impeachment in the lower house.

Recent corruption allegations and huge anti-government street protests have raised the odds of Rousseff being impeached, ending 13 years of leftist Workers' Party rule.

With her popularity at rock bottom due to a snowballing graft scandal and the worst recession in a generation, the political survival of Brazil's first female president depends largely on her main coalition partner, the centrist Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB).

Growing numbers of lawmakers in the fractious PMDB want the party to break with her government, a decision that could be taken at a March 29 executive committee meeting. The party may hold the deciding votes on impeachment, which would put Vice President Michel Temer, leader of the PMDB, in the presidential seat.

Party officials have denied Brazilian media reports that Temer is already preparing a post-Rousseff government and has begun talks with opposition leaders to secure their backing.

The head of the Senate, PMDB Senator Renan Calheiros, who appeared to be wavering in his support of the government, warned the party on Tuesday not to deepen Brazil's crisis by breaking with Rousseff.

After meeting with Lula, who is back in Brasilia leading efforts by his Workers' Party to avert Rousseff's impeachment, Renan told reporters Congress should only oust her for an impeachable offense.

"For the sake democracy, we must warn that you need to have a crime of responsibility for impeachment of the president," Calheiros said, echoing Rousseff's stance.

Lula and the Courts

FILE - Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends an extraordinary Worker's Party leaders meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 30, 2015.
FILE - Brazil's former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva attends an extraordinary Worker's Party leaders meeting in Sao Paulo, Brazil, March 30, 2015.

Rousseff also criticized a crusading anti-corruption judge for overstepping his jurisdiction by releasing a wiretap of a conversation between her and Lula, who is being investigated in a political bribery scheme that has engulfed state-run oil company Petrobras.

Without mentioning the federal judge, Sergio Moro, by name, Rousseff said the judiciary cannot abandon impartiality and take sides politically by becoming a "party militant."

The recording of a conversation between Rousseff and Lula contributed to suspicions that she had appointed her mentor and predecessor as cabinet chief to shield him from prosecution by Moro. Only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction in cases against elected politicians and government ministers.

Earlier on Tuesday, a supreme court justice upheld a decision by another judge on the court barring Lula from taking the ministry post. Last week, Supreme Court Justice Gilmar Mendes blocked Lula from taking office and ordered that the corruption case against him be handled by Moro, exposing Lula to the risk of arrest. A plenary vote of the full Supreme Court on March 30 can still overrule Mendes' decision.

Brazil's Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo said the courts had no justification for barring the former president, adding in a news conference with foreign reporters: "Lula is currently a minister. He just can't exercise his position."

Cardozo said the government will resort to the Supreme Court to fight impeachment if necessary.

"If there are irregularities or violations of the Constitution, we will take legal action," he said.

Brazil is going through its worst political turmoil since Fernando Collor de Mello resigned as president in 1992 ahead of imminent impeachment in a corruption scandal.