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Mass rallies as Brazil political crisis deepens

Demonstrators rally for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's impeachment along Paulista Avenue, in Sao Paulo, Brazil on March 16, 2016. Rousseff named her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as her chief of staff Wednesday, sparing him possible arrest for corruption as she seeks to fend off a damaging crisis. Ministerial immunity will now protect him from prosecution in ordinary court as cabinet ministers can only be tried before the Supreme Court in Brazil. AFP PHOTO / Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP / Miguel Schincariol

Demonstrators rally for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff’s impeachment along Paulista Avenue, in Sao Paulo, Brazil on March 16, 2016. Rousseff named her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as her chief of staff Wednesday, sparing him possible arrest for corruption as she seeks to fend off a damaging crisis. Ministerial immunity will now protect him from prosecution in ordinary court as cabinet ministers can only be tried before the Supreme Court in Brazil. AFP PHOTO / Miguel SCHINCARIOL / AFP / Miguel Schincariol

Brazil faced a deepening political crisis and mass street protests Friday as opponents and backers of President Dilma Rousseff mobilized after lawmakers renewed efforts to drive her from office.

With Rousseff fighting an impeachment drive and financial markets apparently betting on a collapse of her government, her embattled left-wing support base vowed to take to the streets Friday.

Late Thursday, police in Brasilia fired tear gas and stun grenades to keep at bay angry protesters demanding her resignation.

The ongoing protests capped a day of political drama as lawmakers relaunched impeachment proceedings against Rousseff, 68.

The courts, meanwhile, blocked her bid to bring her powerful predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva into the cabinet.

Scores of protesters camped overnight near the headquarters of the anti-Rousseff FIESP industry federation in Sao Paulo, vowing to stay put until she quits.

“We are going to protest like they did in Ukraine. There will be more of us tomorrow,” said one protester, Cristiane Galvao, 44, member of a group called Beloved Homeland Brazil.

“People are supporting us. They are bringing us water and food. We will stay here until Dilma falls.”

Rousseff and her allies are fighting off corruption allegations and struggling with discontent over a deep recession.

– Rousseff slams ‘coup’ –
The setbacks for the leftist leader came a day after new evidence in a corruption scandal: a wiretapped telephone call that suggested Rousseff connived with her predecessor and mentor Lula to shield him from prosecution.

Rousseff swore in Lula, 70, as her new chief of staff on Thursday.

A judge in Brasilia issued a ruling suspending that appointment over allegations that she was trying to protect him from corruption charges by giving him ministerial immunity.

That ruling was overturned late Thursday on appeal, but a separate federal court in Rio de Janeiro upheld another lawsuit blocking Lula’s appointment.

Brazil’s lower house of Congress then launched a committee to draw up a motion on whether to impeach Rousseff over corruption accusations.

The committee has two weeks to present a motion to the house, which must vote on whether to launch an impeachment trial in the Senate. A decision to go forward with it requires a two-thirds majority.

Rousseff is accused of manipulating the government’s accounts to boost public spending during her 2014 re-election campaign.

She accused her enemies of mounting a “coup” against her.

– Counter-demos –
The Sao Paulo stock exchange soared 6.6 percent on Thursday. Analysts said investors were anticipating the fall of the government.

Lula and Rousseff between them have governed Brazil for the past 13 years. He presided over a boom, but political and economic crises are now gripping Latin America’s biggest economy.

Lula, who led Brazil from 2003 to 2011, is charged with accepting a luxury apartment and a country home as bribes from executives implicated in a multi-billion-dollar corruption scam at state oil company Petrobras.

Lula denies involvement in the scandal.

Anti-government protests erupted Wednesday when an anti-corruption judge leaked a wire-tapped phone call between Rousseff and Lula that suggested she appointed him to the new post to save him from arrest.

Big counter-demos on Friday were expected in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Brasilia, called by Rousseff’s Workers’ Party, the major CUT union and other groups.

Organizers said in a statement the demonstrations aimed to fend off a “coup” and to defend Rousseff’s social policies. The CUT vowed the rallies would be peaceful.

Brazil grabbed world headlines in 2013 when it was gripped by mass riots against corruption and increased transport costs.

Recent polls show Rousseff’s popularity rating is down to about 10 percent and 60 percent of Brazilians would support her impeachment.

“I am angry at so much corruption. Things have to change,” said protester Adilio Brasil, 32, in Sao Paulo.

“We do not have healthcare, education and security, and we see these politicians robbing us.”

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