Brazil interim government gets to work in crisis

AFP , Friday 13 May 2016

Brazil's Chief of Staff Minister Eliseu Padilha, interim President Michel Temer, Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles are seen during the first ministerial meeting at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, May 13, 2016 (Photo: Reuters)

Brazil's interim president Michel Temer was expected Friday to launch urgent economic rescue measures as he kicked off his new administration a day after his predecessor was suspended to face an impeachment trial.

The former vice president's new business-friendly cabinet held its first meeting Friday morning, just hours after his boss-turned-nemesis, Dilma Rousseff, quit the presidential palace.

The swift transfer of power ended 13 years of rule by the leftist Workers' Party, which helped lift tens of millions of people from poverty with progressive social programs but became mired in corruption scandals, recession and political paralysis.

Now Temer will have to steer clear of the vast graft scandal engulfing Brazil's political and business elites, while working to fix the economy.

"We don't have much time," Temer, a veteran of the center-right PMDB party, said on taking office.

"We must rebuild the foundations of the Brazilian economy and significantly improve the business environment for the private sector so it can get back to its natural role of investing, producing and creating jobs."

Temer announced the start of the cabinet meeting on Twitter. It was to be followed at 1430 GMT by a news conference by incoming Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles, who was expected to unveil urgent measures to drag Latin America's biggest economy out of its worst recession in decades.

But Temer faces many of the same stumbling blocks as his predecessor, plus a few of his own.

Political analysts warned his honeymoon may not even last until he opens the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro on August 5 -- South America's first.

Temer is just about as disliked as the deeply unpopular Rousseff. A recent poll found he would receive just two percent of the vote in a presidential election.

He will also face a deeply hostile left resentful of being sidelined in what it calls a "coup."

And he will have to coexist with Rousseff, who will still be holed up in the presidential residence mounting her defense during an impeachment trial that could drag on for up to six months.

Temer appealed Thursday for "dialogue" to heal the wounds of the impeachment battle, but stoked opponents' outrage with his cabinet appointments: all 24 of his ministers are white men.

And Temer remains exposed to the swirling scandal at state oil company Petrobras, which has snared top members of his party, the PMDB, as well as Rousseff's PT.

Temer, 75, is not under investigation himself. But some of his ministers are.

A onetime Marxist guerrilla tortured under Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1970s, Rousseff was suspended over allegations she illegally used loans from state banks to boost public spending and hide the depth of the budget deficit during her 2014 re-election campaign.

She claims the accounting maneuver was commonly accepted practice in Brazil and is not an impeachable offense.

But in the all-night Senate session leading up to the impeachment vote, lawmakers held her responsible for more than that. One speaker after another attacked her for presiding over an economic collapse, a multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal and political gridlock.

She lost the vote 55 to 22 -- far more than the simple majority the pro-impeachment camp needed in the 81-member Senate.

The final tally was especially troubling for Rousseff since it is already one vote clear of the two-thirds majority needed to remove her from office permanently at the end of her trial.

Defiant to the end, she used what may have been her last speech from the presidential palace to condemn the "coup" against her yet again and urge her supporters to mobilize.

"What is at stake is respect for the ballot box, the sovereign will of the Brazilian people and the constitution," she said, dressed in white and flanked by her soon-to-be-sacked ministers.

"I may have made mistakes, but I committed no crimes."

She then exited the building to shake hands, hug and wave to some 500 supporters in a cheering, red-clad crowd gathered outside the modernist capital's seat of power.

After giving another fiery speech outside, she slowly made her way to an awaiting convoy of black vehicles, which whisked her away after a long goodbye.

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