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Brazil's president defends Silva appointment despite protests

Street protests erupted in Brazil after President Dilma Rousseff appointed ex-president Lula da Silva as her chief of staff. Government critics accuse her of trying to secure immunity for Lula in a massive graft scandal.

Protesters took the streets of Brazil, again, demanding the president's resignation after a recorded phone conversation with her predecessor was made public, in which she appears to be giving him a Cabinet position to protect him from prosecution.

President Dilma Rousseff, apparently unaware that police were tapping the phone of her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, called him to confirm that she would be sending him the official decree nominating him as her chief of staff so that he could make use of it "if necessary."

Watch video 01:33

Outrage after Lula appointed to cabinet

The exchange appears to confirm allegations that da Silva's appointment is intended to protect him from prosecution in the growing Petrobras scandal.

The released recording immediately provoked a new round of protests, as demonstrators took to the streets, demanding Rousseff's resignation, and da Silva's arrest.

Police used pepper spray to contain a crowd estimated at more than 5,000 people in the capital Brasilia, while thousands more also took to the streets of Sao Paulo.

Opposition lawmaker Antonio Imbassahy, of the PMDB, seized on the latest twist to attack the president and her predecessor.

"Instead of explaining himself and assuming his responsibilities, former president Lula preferred to flee out the back door," said Imbassahy, the leader of the lower house of parliament.

"It's a confession of guilt and a slap to society," Imbassahy added. "President Dilma, by appointing him, has become his accomplice. The final chapter in this story will be her impeachment."

According to the AP news agency, only hours after the appointment, a Brazilian judge released dozens of audio recordings of phone calls between ex-President da Silva and prominent officials.

The material indicates that Lula attempted to curry favor for himself in the Petrobras corruption scandal.

'Legitimate' self defense

Prior to the release of the latest recording, President Rousseff defended her decision to appoint da Silva to her Cabinet, saying and it will give the former president the "necessary powers" to assist the nation as chief of staff.

"Lula's arrival in my government strengthens it and there are people who don't want it to be stronger," Rousseff said, using the former president's nickname, according to AFP news agency.

Rousseff, who is dealing with an economic recession and calls for her impeachment, said she would give Silva "the necessary powers … to help Brazil."

Ernesto Samper, secretary general of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) and former Colombian president, welcomed the decision, saying Lula's acceptance of the appointment was a "legitimate" act of self-defense.

"Lula accepting a post in the government is an act of legitimate political self-defense and an insurance for his right to due process," said Samper on Twitter.

According to Brazilian law, only the Supreme Court can authorize the investigation, trial and imprisonment of legislators and cabinet members.

'Condemnable'

The appointment prompted a backlash from opposition lawmakers and activists, with some describing it as a self-induced "coup."

Senator Aecio Neves of the opposition party PSDB said Silva's nomination for a cabinet position was "condemnable."

"On every aspect, the nomination of ex-President Lula to the Casa Civil is condemnable," Neves said on Twitter.

On Sunday, Brazil was rocked by demonstrations calling for Rousseff's impeachment, with between 1 to 3 million people protesting across the country, according to some estimates.

dj/rg (AFP, AP, Reuters)

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