Brazil unrest persists over graft probe

14 April 2015, Newswires – Brazilians took to the streets in over 100 cities on over the weekend in the second major protest of the year against President Dilma Rousseff, blaming her for a sputtering economy and widening corruption scandal at state-run oil company Petrobras.

Brazil President, Dilma Rousseff

Dilma Rousseff, Brazil President

Rousseff herself is not under investigation in the still-expanding Petrobras probe. She says she knew nothing about the bribery and price-fixing racket that allegedly cost the company billions of dollars while she was chairwoman from 2003 to 2010.

But accusations swirled on Monday morning from Aecio Neves, the closest challenger narrowly defeated by Rousseff last year, who in an interview with the Wall Street Journal claimed that money obtained in the graft scheme helped her win elections.

Neves said he lost because of “organised crime”, which was how he characterised the alleged graft, not because his market friendly economic policies lacked appeal.

Reports have also been emerging that embattled Petrobras will state its losses from corruption at 1.9 billion reais ($610.4 million). That sums to some 3% of assets that may have been embezzled.

While the crowds shrank significantly from around a million protesters on 15 March, organizers said the dozens of major demonstrations in every corner of Brazil showed the extent of anti-government sentiment that has taken hold in the country.

State police counted 275,000 there, down from a million protesters in the city on March 15. Polling firm Datafolha estimated 100,000 demonstrators in Sao Paulo on Sunday, down from 210,000 a month ago.

Three quarters of Brazilians support the protests, according to a Datafolha poll released on Saturday.

“While the diminished turnout was a welcome respite for the Dilma Rousseff administration, the protests underscored the challenges the president will continue to face in the coming months,” the Eurasia Group wrote in a note.

“Out with Dilma” was the recurring chant at the peaceful, almost festive protests, and that sentiment united the handful of loosely associated groups organizing the events. But views differed widely on what their rallying cry meant.

“Impeachment Now” read a banner stretching most of a city block in Sao Paulo. Nearly two thirds of Brazilians favor impeachment of the president who narrowly won re-election in October, according to Datafolha, but almost as many doubt the corruption scandal will drive Rousseff from office.

“The best would be for her to resign so the country doesn’t have to suffer so much with impeachment,” said Sandra di Giacomo, a protester in Sao Paulo draped in a Brazilian flag.

Opposition parties have played down the prospects for impeachment, even as prosecutors charge members of Rousseff’s ruling coalition in the graft investigation at state-run oil giant known formally as Petrobras.

“Dilma is on thin ice. Her future depends on this case,” said Cristia Lima, an activist with a group called Brazil Against Corruption, at the protest in the capital Brasilia.

“Nobody really expects impeachment to take place because much of the political class is implicated too, but popular pressure could force her to quit,” Lima added.

If Rousseff were to leave office, the next in line would be Vice President Michel Temer of the centrist PMDB party, whose leaders have also been caught up in the Petrobras scandal along with Rousseff’s own leftist Workers Party.

– Upstream

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