Rousseff rallies Brazil anti-impeachment crowd

Sao Paulo (AFP) –


Brazil's embattled leftist President Dilma Rousseff vowed at a protest Sunday to go down fighting ahead of what could be her final full week in power before impeachment.

Thousands of people attended May Day rallies organized by labor unions in cities across Latin America's biggest country, with Rousseff telling a crowd in the financial powerhouse Sao Paulo that she would "fight to the end."

The traditional Labor Day celebrations were dominated by anger at the impeachment drive, described by Rousseff as a coup based on trumped up charges aimed at returning Brazil's center-right to power.

Rousseff, whose Workers' Party has held the presidency since 2003, told the Sao Paulo rally that opponents are "ripping up the constitution" and plotting to undo policies that seek to lift tens of millions of people from grinding poverty.

"If they can do this to me, what will they do to working people?" she asked, announcing a new increase to the family allowance program called Bolsa Familia.

The crowd chanted: "There won't be a coup, there'll be a struggle!"

Rousseff, in the second year of her second term, could be suspended from office as soon as May 10 or 11 when the Senate is expected to vote to open a trial on charges of illegal government accounting.

If so she'd be replaced by her vice president, Michel Temer, the leader of Brazil's biggest center-right party and a former coalition partner in Rouseff's government.

A final vote in the Senate later this year, possibly in September, could remove her office definitively and keep Temer in power until elections in 2018.

Although Rousseff appears nearly certain to be suspended, she and her allies, including charismatic former president Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva, hope the case will collapse when it comes to the final vote, where a two- thirds majority of senators is needed to pass impeachment.

- 'Civil disobedience' -

In the meantime, Rousseff supporters are vowing to make life difficult for Temer, who would inherit Brazil's worst recession in decades and a deeply divided country.

Gilmar Mauro from the group Landless Rural Workers' Movement vowed "civil disobedience" against Temer's government, which the vice president is already in the process of forming ahead of Rousseff's probable suspension.

"We do not recognize a government that no one elected," Vagner Freitas, president of the Unified Workers' Central or CUT, Brazil's main labor federation, was quoted as saying by Globo news site.

"The fight goes on, there will be no coup," echoed Rui Falcao, national leader of the Workers' Party. "We will not discuss with a putschist."

Temer has rejected accusations from the Rousseff camp that he would dismantle the social programs promoted since Lula came to power in 2003. However, he says he will have majority support in Congress to begin reforms needed to put Brazil's floundering economy back on track.

Although Rousseff has little personal popularity among her own base, demonstrators said they feared what would happen to Brazil without her.

"If we don't take to the streets, we will have to put up with this right wing coup which will bring terrible unemployment, mess up the economy and return millions of people to poverty," said retiree Edna Delanina, 65, at the Sao Paulo rally.