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Brazil Supreme Court blocks Lula's cabinet appointment

A Supreme Court justice has ordered former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to be stripped of his new ministerial role. The judge said the appointment was clearly an attempt to help him avoid prosecution.

Federal Court Justice Gilmar Mendes' decision was the second time Silva's appointment had been legally blocked.

Mendes said that Silva's new position, created by current President Dilma Rousseff, was clearly an attempt to get around his mounting legal woes.

Two weeks ago, Silva was questioned as part of an ongoing probe into an alleged kickback scheme at state oil company Petrobras. On Thursday, Rousseff named Silva as her new chief of staff and in becoming a Cabinet minister, he can only be prosecuted by a decision of the Supreme Court.

Graft allegations

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff

Lula was Rousseff's predecessor and political mentor

Silva denies involvement in the scandal, including allegations that he accepted a luxury apartment and a country home as bribes from construction companies implicated in a multi-billion-dollar corruption scam at the oil giant.

Mendes' decision on Friday is likely to deepen tensions between the judiciary and Brazil's leftist government. Rousseff's administration is likely to appeal the decision, which eventually will have to be decided on by the full court.

Public anger

Silva's appointment on Thursday sparked huge protests in several cities calling for Rousseff's departure, and saw a legal challenge to block him from taking up the role. The main opposition has also denounced his selection as a desperate bid by Rousseff to avoid impeachment proceedings herself.

Pro-Rousseff demonstration

Tens of thousands turned out to support Lula on Friday

But similar rallies in Sao Paulo on Friday saw thousands of people demonstrate in support of Lula and Rousseff's Workers' Party.

Impeachment close?

In the lower house of Congress on Friday, opposition parties held a session to help move along the vote for Rousseff's removal from office.

Rousseff has 10 sessions in the lower house to present her defense against allegations that she broke budget rules to boost spending as she campaigned for re-election in 2014. She denies any wrongdoing.

Watch video 01:30

Demonstrations in the streets of Brazil

Her main coalition party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party (PMDB), will decide on March 29 whether to break with her government and seek her impeachment.

Recent polls show Rousseff's popularity rating is down to about 10 percent and 60 percent of Brazilians would support her impeachment.

mm/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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