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Brazil's Temer survives Congress vote on corruption charge

Brazil's president Michel Temer has successfully blocked corruption charges in Congress. In a vote, the legislature decided not to suspend Temer and ask the Supreme Federal Court to try him for bribery.

Brazilian President Michel Temer survived Wednesday's congressional vote after 263 members of the Chamber of Deputies voted against putting the president on trial for bribery charges.

The opposition in the lower house needed the support of at least two-thirds of the 513-seat chamber, or 342 votes, to advance the charges against the president to the country's top court. After more than a third of congressional lawmakers showed their support for Temer and only 227 voted against him, the charges against Brazil's embattled president were effectively suspended.

Temer described it as "a clear, indisputable" victory.

However, Brazil's president is likely to face further charges for obstruction of justice, possibly as soon as next week. That could spark a second vote and again put his presidency on the line.

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Brazil's President denies corruption charges

As sitting president, Temer could only be suspended and put on trial before Brazil's Supreme Federal Court with the chamber's approval. Had Congress authorized the trial, the president would have been suspended for 180 days, while the lower house's speaker would have taken office as interim president.

All 513 members of the lower house face re-election next year. This made the high level of support for Temer somewhat of a surprise. Although the president was predicted to win over a third of the votes needed to see the charges against him shelved, more lawmakers were expected to vote in line with public opinion, which overwhelmingly wants to see Temer out of office.

Prosecutors investigating Temer for bribery, obstruction of justice and membership in a criminal organization released a recording in which he appears to support hush money for Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the lower house.

As part of the probe, it came to light that Temer may have orchestrated a bribery scheme in which he would get payouts totaling millions of dollars for helping JBS, the world's largest meat-packing company, resolve a business issue.

Police arrested a former aide to the president after a video emerged of him leaving a restaurant with a suitcase holding 500,000 reals ($150,000/127,000 euros) destined, investigators say, for Temer himself as just the first in a series of payments. Brazil's top prosecutor, Rodrigo Janot, has said he will file at least two more graft-related charges against Temer - who has a 5 percent approval rating - before he steps down in mid-September.

As members of the lower house cast their votes on Wednesday, some 500 demonstrators gathered outside the cin the Brazilian capital of Brasilia to demand Temer's removal from office and that the country hold general elections.

Dramatic start

As the lower house convened earlier on Wednesday to debate whether to suspend the president, a group of about 30 opposition lawmakers walked into the Chamber of Deputies carrying a large sign demanding Temer's ouster and shouting slogans including "out with Temer."

According to news agency AFP, some lawmakers also wheeled in a suitcase similar to the one used by the former aide in question.

 "Temer is a crook and he needs to sort out his situation with the Justice Department," Elvino Bohn Gass, a member of the opposition Workers' Party, said. "Brazil should not be governed by a gang of thugs."

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Lula conviction shocks Brazil

Brazil's elite in the dock

Corruption charges have jailed much of Brazil's elite, including the construction tycoon Marcelo Odebrecht and the former speaker Cunha, who received a 15-year prison sentence. Temer rose to power a little over a year ago, following the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. Lawmakers had accused the former president of illegally managing the federal budget. Rousseff, a member of the left-leaning Workers' Party, accused Temer, of the anti-labor Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, of masterminding her ouster to avoid facing accountability in the Operation Car Wash corruption investigation. 

Last month, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's was sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison after being found guilty of having accepted bribes valuing around 3.7 million reals.

The money was spent on renovating a three-story beachfront  apartment in the Atlantic coast municipality of Guaruja for Lula. In exchange, the ex-president helped the OAS construction company obtain lucrative government contracts with the state oil company Petrobras.

mkg, se, dm/jr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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