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Debate on impeachment of Brazil's President Rousseff drags on

During a feisty debate, more than half of the lawmakers in Brazil's Senate have indicated they will vote to impeach President Dilma Rousseff. As the official vote looms, the president has already packed up her office.

Police clashed with supporters of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff on Wednesday near the Senate, where debate to put the president on trial for impeachment dragged on into the night.

A simple majority in the chamber would open proceedings against the embattled president, forcing her to be suspended from office and hand power to Vice President Michel Temer.

Speaking ahead of the vote, more than half of the senators have said they would put Rousseff on trial for illegal accounting maneuvers to hide budget holes. Media reports suggest that the opposition has 50 or 51 votes out of the 81 senators supporting a full impeachment trial.

The Senate would then need to convict Rousseff with a two-thirds majority at the trial to permanently oust her from office.

Ahead of the vote, Rousseff has already packed up her office and was preparing to dismiss her ministers, Brazilian media reported. Aides said she would not help Temer in a transition since she considers the trial an illegal move by the opposition.

If she is ousted, Temer will have to quickly assemble a transition team.

Police officers use pepper spray on demonstrators against the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff in Brasilia, Brazil, May 11, 2016. REUTERS/Paulo Whitaker

Pro-Rousseff protesters clashed with police in the capital, Brasilia

Economic recession, Petrobras kickback scheme

The allegations facing Rousseff are that she violated fiscal rules in handling the federal budget. She is charged with having illegally tapped state banks and taken loans to cover up budget deficits.

But the process, which has been going on for months, is taking place against a background of a deep economic recession and revelations of a kickback scheme in state oil company Petrobras.

Rousseff would be forced to step down immediately, although she would probably remain in the official residence. The Senate would determine if she would lose her executive privileges. Under the law, Temer would be in charge for 180 days or until the Senate permanently ousted Rousseff from the presidency.

The Senate action comes after the lower house voted 367-137 last month in favor of impeachment.

The debate and vote are being closely watched both inside Brazil and internationally. On Monday, the head of the lower house annulled impeachment sessions, only to revoke his own decision.

Labor unions protested this second decision by burning tires in the streets. Rousseff's supporters have denounced the impeachment process as a coup.

Rousseff's defense lawyers have challenged every step of the impeachment process in the Supreme Court, with Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo requesting another injunction Tuesday.

Rousseff's ruling Workers' Party also requested the high court block Temer from naming ministers before the end of the impeachment trial that could take weeks.

But on Wednesday, a Supreme Court judge denied the injunction to halt the Senate vote. Justice Teori Zavascki ruled the government's argument, that impeachment was flawed because it was started out of revenge by the former speaker of the lower house, was "legally implausible."

If the vote goes ahead, Rousseff would become the first leader in more than 20 years to be removed from office. It would also end 13 years of rule by the Workers' Party in Latin America's largest economy - just months ahead of the Summer Olympic Games in August.

Rousseff, a 68-year-old economist, was tortured during Brazil's long dictatorship and accused of belonging to a Marxist guerrilla group. She has said her impeachment is illegal and branded it a "coup."

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Brazil Senate debates impeachment

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