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Brazil's Rousseff cancels address as impeachment debate begins

With a critical impeachment vote coming on Sunday, Dilma Rousseff has canceled a planned televised address to the nation. Opposition groups had filed an injunction to block the speech.

Embattled Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff canceled a scheduled address to the nation on Friday night, ahead of a looming impeachment vote in the lower house of Congress.

The lower house will vote Sunday on whether Rousseff should be impeached by the Senate for allegedly breaking financial laws. Rousseff is widely expected to lose the vote and had planned on using the speech to defend herself against the allegations. An opposition party had sought a Supreme Court injunction to block her speech, arguing that Rousseff was using state resources to defend herself.

Activists demonstrate against the impeachment Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff copyright: Getty Images/AFP/A. Anholete

Pro and anti-impeachment demonstrations across Brazil could prove volatile in the coming days

The cancellation comes shortly after the lower house of Congress opened a raucous three-day debate on whether to impeach Rousseff on charges she broke budget laws. Pro-government demonstrators marched in several states Friday as the debate began, with major trade unions and peasant movements planning bigger, nationwide protests on Sunday.

Rousseff is facing charges she manipulated budget accounts in 2014 in order to secure her re-election, charges she has strongly denied. Brazil's Supreme Court rejected a last-ditch appeal on Thursday to halt the impeachment process, threatening to destabilize Latin America's largest economy even further.

Security in the capital of Brasilia has been stepped up in order to avoid clashes between rival demonstrators expected to turn out by the tens of thousands over the weekend. Roughly two-thirds of Brazilians support impeachment, according to opinion polls.

"I am very worried that there will be violence, depending on the result of the vote and the number of people who gather in Brasilia," Congressman Rogerio Rosso, who chaired the lower house committee that backed Rousseff's impeachment, told the Reuters news agency.

Electric atmosphere

Lower house members who support the impeachment demonstrate EVARISTO SA/AFP/Getty Images

Lawmakers backing impeachment held placards demanding Rousseff's ouster

The atmosphere in the lower Chamber of Deputies Friday was highly charged, as Rousseff's critics chanted "Dilma out!" and held placards reading "Impeachment Now!"

Meanwhile, Rousseff supporter Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo addressed Congress in her defense, calling the impeachment process a "violent act with no parallel against democracy."

"History will never forgive those who broke with democracy," Cardozo said, as ruling lawmakers shouted: "There won't be a coup."

If the lower house votes to impeach Rousseff, the Senate must then vote on whether to put her on trial for disobeying budget laws. If the Senate approves trial, Rousseff would automatically be suspended and replaced by Vice President Michel Temer.

Watch video 01:51

Rousseff one step closer to impeachment

bw/cmk (AP, Reuters, EFE)

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