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Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff impeached, will be suspended from office

Following a marathon debate session that lasted through the night, 55 of Brazil’s 81 senators voted against Rousseff, who once enjoyed widespread popularity in South America’s largest country and an economic powerhouse in the region.

That was far more than the simple majority needed to suspend for up to 180 days while an impeachment trial is held.

The total also exceeded the two-thirds majority that would eventually be needed to permanently remove her once the trial is over, a sign of the remote odds she faces for making a comeback.

Weary-looking lawmakers lightly applauded the final vote on the Senate floor.

The outcome was nothing like the raucous celebration that took place when Brazil’s lower house of congress voted to impeach Rousseff last month and her opponents broke into chants of “bye-bye darling.”

Rousseff’s impeachment is a once-unthinkable blow to her leftist Workers’ Party, which presided over years of prosperity and robust social-welfare spending that lifted more than 30 million Brazilians out of poverty. Now Rousseff and her party are paying for Brazil’s crash.

With the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro less than three months away, South America’s largest country is facing its most severe economic contraction since the 1930s, and a massive corruption scandal has tarnished nearly all of Brazil’s political leaders.

The impeachment vote was the culmination of months of legal and political maneuvering by Rousseff’s administration and its opponents, a process that has produced a gripping drama that has left Brazilians frustrated and increasingly worried that their country is sliding into long-term dysfunction.

Brazilians followed Senate proceedings closely, with TV networks providing live coverage and news sites offering a running tally of the senators denouncing Rousseff. Many of the lawmakers described her impeachment as the essential first step toward turning the country around.

Rousseff, 68, a former Marxist guerrilla who became Brazil’s first female president, is one of the few top political figures not under suspicion of bribe-taking or other corruption, although her party is accused of involvement in dirty deals.

That difference had emboldened Rousseff’s defenders and raised doubts among international observers about the legitimacy of the impeachment effort. Some independent analysts and Rousseff allies called the proceedings an excuse to get rid of an unpopular leader, and a sign of political immaturity in a country whose democracy was restored in 1985 after two decades of military rule.

Attorney General Jose Cardozo, who is leading her defense, said lawmakers were condemning “an honest and innocent woman.”

“All the previous governments did the same thing,” he said of the budget law offenses Rousseff is accused of. “Where is the bad faith of the President of the Republic?” he shouted.

But one of the last lawmakers to address the chamber, Sen. Romero Jucá, called the accusations against Rousseff a “crime of responsibility.”

“We know that the Titanic will sink if it keeps going in the direction it’s going,” he said.

Rousseff will be forced to step down Thursday upon formal notification of the Senate’s decision. Vice President Michel Temer would assume the presidency on an interim basis, and he would serve out the rest of Rousseff’s term if she was found guilty.

The vote puts Rousseff among a small number of democratically elected leaders who have been impeached. They include former U.S. president Bill Clinton, who was impeached in the House in 1998 but acquitted in a Senate trial.

The procedure is not unfamiliar to Brazilians. In 1992, then-President Fernando Collar Collor de Mello resigned after he was put on trial by the Senate on corruption charges. He later returned to politics and won a Senate seat. On Wednesday, he said Rousseff’s government was “in ruins.”

Rousseff is accused of improperly using billions of dollars in loans from government banks to patch budget gaps and fund popular social programs.

Rousseff’s opponents say she deceived lawmakers and the public about the state of the country’s finances to conceal her mismanagement of the economy. She denies any wrongdoing and insists that her predecessors used the same bookkeeping procedures.

One Rousseff opponent compared her presidency to “gangrene” sickening Brazil. “If we amputate the leg, we save the body,” Sen. Magno Malta said.

Anti-impeachment demonstrators on Wednesday blocked roads with burning tires in cities including São Paulo and the capital, Brasília, where police fired tear gas and clashed with a small group of protesters. Groups backing Rousseff have called for a national strike. Groups backing Rousseff called for a national strike.

But Rousseff’s support base has withered, and a climate of resignation has settled over her administration and the Workers’ Party, with some supporters conceding that Wednesday was likely to be her last day in office.

Rousseff was not waiting for the vote either: She ordered her photos, books and other belongings packed up at the presidential office Wednesday afternoon in anticipation of her suspension, according to Brazilian news reports.

She was expected to hold a news conference Thursday morning and release an online video, but there was no indication that she was preparing to resign.

Rousseff narrowly won reelection in 2014, but recent polls show that her approval rating has slumped to about 10 percent. Critics say her brusque personal style and disdain for retail politics added to her isolation by turning onetime allies against her. She made no speeches or public statements Wednesday and was photographed strolling through the grounds of the presidential palace in exercise clothing, among long-necked rheas – large, flightless birds native to South America.

Some prominent international observers had cautioned that Rousseff’s removal could set a bad precedent for democracy by promoting the idea that a presidential mandate from voters can be interrupted by lawmakers.

Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, has questioned the legality of Rousseff’s possible removal, but he said he would seek the opinion of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights changed his mind less than 24 hours later, clearing a path for the Senate vote.

© 2016, The Washington Post

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