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Brazil's Suspended Lower House Speaker Resigns

Brazilian suspended House Speaker Eduardo Cunha speaks during a news conference at the National Congress in Brasilia, July 7, 2016.

The corruption-tainted speaker of the lower house of Brazil's Congress announced his resignation on Thursday, ending months of political bickering
that threatened to deepen a legislative stalemate blamed for keeping the economy mired in recession.

An emotional Eduardo Cunha, who had already been suspended from his speakership duties, said with a cracking voice that he was the victim of persecution for starting the process to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, who has been suspended since May 12.

"Only my resignation can put an end to this endless instability. The lower house cannot bear to wait forever," Cunha told reporters in a hastily called news conference.

Interim President Michel Temer, who replaced Rousseff while she stands trial in the Senate, now faces the tough task of forging consensus from his broad center-right coalition on new leadership. The new speaker must be elected by the lower house.

A bruising leadership race could slow Temer's efforts to approve economic reforms to pull the economy out of what looks to be its worst recession in more than a century.

Humberto Dantas, a political analyst with E4 consultancy in Sao Paulo, said Cunha's resignation could end the stalemate in the lower house of Congress. Dantas said that Temer's challenge "will be to elect a candidate that supports his interests so he can avoid the same fate as Rousseff."

A congressional ethics committee last month recommended stripping Cunha of his seat and banning him from politics for eight years for lying about Swiss bank accounts linked to a vast political graft scandal. Cunha has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

The full chamber is expected to remove Cunha from his seat in mid-July. Brazilian media has speculated that Cunha's resignation could be part of a deal with his allies to vote against his full removal from the lower house.

"His resignation of the speakership will not save his mandate. On the contrary, this reinforces the need to expel him next week," said Rubens Bueno, one of the leaders of the Popular Socialist Party, part of Temer's alliance.

Temer's office has not commented on the resignation.

Cunha is the only sitting lawmaker so far to be charged by the Supreme Court with corruption in the bribery scandal focused on state oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA, also known as Petrobras. In May, the court removed Cunha temporarily from the speakership, saying he used his position to obstruct the graft investigation.