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Rousseff's impeachment session starts amid high tension

Lawmakers in Brazil have opened a session to decide whether President Dilma Rousseff should face impeachment. Brazilians are split about the motion. The vote appeared to be going in favor of Rousseff's opponents.

Impeachment proceedings against Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff neared a decisive vote with pro- and anti-government legislators yelling inside Congress as thousands of demonstrators rallied outside. Tension boiled over as soon as the house speaker Eduardo Cunha, a fierce Rousseff opponent, opened the session.

The dramatic ballot took place with delegates voting one by one, each announcing their decision to the packed assemby.

The vote did not appear to be going well for the president. After 230 votes had been cast, 182 delegates were in favor of impeachment while only 45 were against and three had abstained. Shortly afterwards, the ruling Workers' Party conceded defeat in the impeachment vote, with the party caucus leader saying it was inevitable.

Opponents of Rousseff needed 342 votes - a two-third majority in the 513-seat chamber - to secure the next step in the impeachment process.

The extraordinary parliamentary session is the culmination of months of political infighting. Emotions have been running high since the impeachment proceedings began in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies on April 15. Voting in Congress was to start after statements by various party leaders.

The political showdown was broadcast live on television to the country of 204 million. Screens were also erected in city squares to air the event.

Rousseff, 68, is accused of illegal accounting during her 2014 re-election designed to hide her government's failure to meet election promises. Many Brazilians also hold her responsible for the poor state of Brazil's economy. Amid this series of scandals, Rousseff's government has been left with 10 percent approval ratings.

Tensions high on both sides

Outside the legislature, pro- and anti-impeachment demonstrators flooded the streets of the capital Brasilia. Huge metal barricades kept

rival sides

far apart. Thousands were also seen demonstrating, both for and against the government, in several other cities. The overall atmosphere on the streets was largely peaceful; in Rio de Janeiro, the rallies were even described as being quite festive, reminiscent of a football game.

Patricia Santos, a retired 52-year-old schoolteacher outside Congress, told the Associated Press (AP) that she was fed up with the status quo and wanted Rousseff out.

Dilma Rousseff

President Dilma Rousseff said that those accusing her had also engaged in corruption, adding that she saw no wrongdoing in her accounting

"We want our politicians to be less corrupt, so we hope impeaching her will send a signal to them all," said Santos.

"We know that all the parties are involved in the corruption but the Workers' Party has been the leaders of this all for the last 13 years so they have to go."

Jader Alves, a 67-year-old retiree from Rio de Janeiro, told AP that if Rousseff was to be impeached he would be back on the streets.

"My president was elected in 2014 and she will remain in office until 2018, no matter what," he said.

Corruption across the board

For Rousseff to be impeached, a minimum of 342 of the lower house's 513 lawmakers would have to vote in favor of the motion. Proceedings would then move to the Senate, where a separate vote could see Rousseff suspended for six months pending an investigation and trial, handing over the presidency to current Vice President Michel Temer for the time being. Temer, 75, has tried to cast himself as a unifying force that can heal a scarred nation; Rousseff, however, has accused the politician of being part of

a conspiracy against her

.

At the end of that investigation, the Senate would still need to end the trial against her with a two thirds majority in favor of ejecting her, which would mean that Temer could stay on until elections in 2018.

The Brazilian parliament building, Brasilia

Opponents of Rousseff need a two-third majority in the 513-seat chamber - to secure the next step

If the majority of lawmakers in Congress were, however, to vote against impeachment, the current bid to oust Rousseff would be over. Any subsequent attempt would have to start from the beginning of the legal process, necessitating the involvement of fresh accusations. Opposition leaders warned they would quickly launch a new impeachment attempt in that case.

Many of the people hoping to unseat Rousseff, however, face serious allegations themselves. Temer could potentially face

impeachment proceedings

himself. The next in line to the presidency house speaker Eduardo Cunha is also facing money laundering and other charges for allegedly accepting some $5 million in bribes. About 60 percent of the 594 members of Congress currently face corruption and other charges.

The final result appeared to hang on the votes of a few dozen undecided lawmakers, making any predictions about the final tally too close to call. However, the latest estimates in major Brazilian newspapers said that

Support for Rousseff impeachment grows, but outcome remains uncertain

pro-impeachment deputies in the house could succeed#.

ss/rc (AP, AFP)

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