Rousseff vows to fight impeachment

  • 13/05/2016
President Dilma Rousseff (Getty)
President Dilma Rousseff (Getty)

Suspended Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff has vowed to fight to prove her innocence after the Senate voted to put her on trial for breaking budget laws.

In a dramatic changing of the guard that signalled a political shift in Brazil, Ms Rousseff, a leftist who has been in office since 2011, departed Brasilia's Planalto presidential palace just hours after the vote.

Centrist Vice-President Michel Temer took over as interim president for the duration of a Senate trial that could take up to six months.

Mr Temer, a constitutional scholar who spent decades in Brazil's Congress and who had a bitter falling out with Ms Rousseff last year, faces the daunting task of hauling the world's number nine economy out its worst downturn since the Great Depression and cutting bloated public spending.

Mr Temer, 75, quickly named respected former central bank governor Henrique Meirelles as his finance minister, as part of a scaled-back cabinet, with a mandate to overhaul the costly pension system.

In a defiant address before she left, Ms Rousseff reiterated what she has maintained since impeachment proceedings were launched against her last December by the lower house of Congress, calling the impeachment "fraudulent" and "a coup".

"I may have made mistakes, but I did not commit any crime," she said.

Ms Rousseff's mentor, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who now faces corruption charges, stood behind her and looked on dejectedly as 13 years of rule by their Workers Party came to an abrupt end.

Ms Rousseff, 68, was flanked by dozens of outgoing ministers.

Even as many wept, Ms Rousseff remained stolid.

"I never imagined that it would be necessary to fight once again against a coup in this country," Ms Rousseff said, in a reference to her youth fighting Brazil's military dictatorship.

Shortly afterward, she addressed hundreds of supporters outside, many of them dressed in Workers Party red, and already shouting "Temer out!"

"This is a tragic hour for our country," Ms Rousseff said, calling her suspension an effort by conservatives to roll back the social and economic gains made by the Workers Party.

The Senate deliberated for 20 hours before voting 55-22 early on Thursday to put Ms Rousseff on trial over charges that she disguised the size of the budget deficit to make the economy look healthier in the runup to her 2014 re-election.

Despite her vows to fight, she is unlikely to be acquitted in her trial.

The size of the vote to try her showed the opposition already has the support it will need to reach the two-thirds majority required to convict Ms Rousseff.

"It is a bitter, though necessary medicine," opposition Senator Jose Serra, named on Thursday as the new foreign minister under Mr Temer, said during the marathon Senate debate.

"Having the Ms Rousseff government continue would be a bigger tragedy."

Brazilian markets, which for weeks have rallied because of expectations for a business-friendly Temer administration, remained calm.

Upon being notified of her suspension early Thursday, Ms Rousseff dismissed her cabinet, including the Sports Minister, who is in final preparations for the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro in August.