Brazil Senate starts impeachment trial of President Rousseff

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Brazil’s Senate on Thursday began deliberating whether to permanently remove President Dilma Rousseff from office, the final step in a leadership fight that has paralyzed Congress and cast a pall over a nation in the midst of a severe recession.

Brazil’s first female president is accused of illegally shifting money between government budgets to mask yawning deficits. Detractors say she did that to shore up support and argue those maneuvers exacerbated the recession in Latin America’s largest economy.

Rousseff denies wrongdoing and says her enemies, including the country’s elite who have fumed about her Workers Party’s lock on power the last 13 years, are conducting a “coup.”

Senators are now embarking “on their most somber duties,” said Ricardo Lewandowski, the chief justice of the country’s highest court who is overseeing the trial. “To judge the president, (senators) must act with the utmost impartiality and objectivity, considering only the facts they are presented and the laws.”

The impeachment push started late last year when Eduard Cunha, then the speaker of the lower House of Deputies and a long-time Rousseff nemesis, introduced the measure. In April, his chamber overwhelmingly passed it. Then in May, the Senate voted 55-22 to impeach and suspend Rousseff for up to 180 days.

Vice President Michel Temer, Rousseff’s one-time ally who turned nemesis, took over. If the Senate votes to permanently remove Rousseff, Temer will serve the rest of her term, which goes through 2018.

Several days of testimony, including an address by Rousseff on Monday, will wrap up in a final vote next week.

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