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Brazil's Rousseff suspended to face impeachment trial

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Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was suspended Thursday to face an impeachment trial, ceding power to her vice president-turned-enemy Michel Temer in a political earthquake ending 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America's biggest nation.

[BRASILIA] Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was suspended Thursday to face an impeachment trial, ceding power to her vice president-turned-enemy Michel Temer in a political earthquake ending 13 years of leftist rule in Latin America's biggest nation.

Mr Temer quickly pivoted toward a more business-friendly government, naming a cabinet chosen to calm the markets after a paralyzing impeachment battle and steer the country out of its worst recession in decades.

He tapped a respected former central bank chief, Henrique Meirelles, for the key post of finance minister, an adviser said, confirming a full cabinet overhaul that opponents immediately condemned as a throw-back to an era when Brazilian politics was the exclusive domain of white males.

Defiant to the end, Brazil's first female president denounced a "coup" aimed at driving her from power, and urged her supporters to mobilize as she braces for an impeachment trial that is set to drag on for months.

"What is at stake is respect for the ballot box, the sovereign will of the Brazilian people and the constitution," Ms Rousseff said in what could be her final address from the presidential palace, dressed in a white jacket and flanked by her soon-to-be-sacked ministers.

She then exited the building to shake hands, hug and wave to some 500 supporters in a red-clad crowd gathered outside the modernist capital's seat of power.

There, she gave another fiery speech as her predecessor and mentor, the once wildly popular Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, stood by her side, repeatedly wiping the sweat from his brow with a handkerchief in the tropical heat.

She was then whisked away in a convoy of black vehicles.

Hours earlier, a nearly 22-hour debate in the Senate closed with an overwhelming 55-22 vote against Ms Rousseff, as pro-impeachment senators burst into applause and posed for selfies and congratulatory group photos.

Only a simple majority of the 81-member Senate was required to suspend Ms Rousseff for six months pending judgment on charges that she broke budget accounting laws.

A two-thirds majority vote will be needed at the end of the impeachment trial to force Ms Rousseff, 68, from office for good.

A onetime Marxist guerrilla tortured under the country's military dictatorship in the 1970s, Ms Rousseff was expected to hole up in her official residence, where she will continue to live with her mother during the trial. She will retain her salary and bodyguards.

The leader of the Workers' Party in the Senate, Humberto Costa, said his side would now work to convince senators to support Ms Rousseff in the trial and turn the tide in her favor.

The international community responded cautiously to the change in leadership.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for "calm and dialogue" and said he "trusts that the country's authorities will honor Brazil's democratic processes," his spokesman said.

The United States said it was confident Brazil was strong enough to withstand the political turmoil.

"We intend to respect the government institutions and traditions and procedures," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.

In Latin America, where the Workers' Party is an emblem of a decade of left-wing dominance that lately appears to be waning, some reactions were more barbed.

Ernesto Samper, the secretary general of the Union of South American Nations, warned Brazil risked a "rupture of democratic continuity" if Ms Rousseff was definitively ousted.

And Ecuador warned of the "threat of a grave alteration of the constitutional order."

Due to host the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in less than three months, Brazil is struggling to stem economic disarray and handle the fallout from a corruption scandal reaching deep into the political and business elite.

The multiple crises have wreaked havoc on the Workers' Party, whose transformative social programs have lifted tens of millions of people from poverty since 2003, but which has been portrayed as increasingly incapable of governing.

Senate President Renan Calheiros, who oversaw the proceedings, told reporters that impeachment would be "traumatic." Brief clashes broke out Wednesday at demonstrations in Brasilia and Rio, and police braced for more possible trouble Thursday afternoon as Mr Temer prepared to give an address and formally install his cabinet.

Jose Eduardo Cardozo, Ms Rousseff's attorney general, delivered a passionate closing statement before the impeachment vote, telling senators that they were "condemning an honest, innocent woman" and leaving "a stain on our history."

But opposition leader Aecio Neves said "Brazil can now start to turn a new page."

In what may go down as one of the many ironies of the chaotic impeachment process, Mr Neves, the candidate Ms Rousseff narrowly defeated in the 2014 election, was named shortly after as the latest target in the sprawling probe into a multi-billion-dollar corruption scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras.

Markets were upbeat, however: stocks in Sao Paulo rose more than one per cent on optimism for the new administration's economic program.

AFP