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Brazil impeachment drive against Rousseff tips into chaos
[BRASÍLIA] The impeachment of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was thrown into confusion Monday when the acting speaker of the lower house of Congress annulled the April vote by lawmakers that launched the process.
Just days before the Senate seemed near certain to suspend Ms Rousseff for six months and open an impeachment trial, the new leader of the lower house threw a spanner in the works - dramatically ramping up the instability gripping Latin America's biggest country.
Waldir Maranhao, the interim speaker, ordered that a new vote in the lower house should take place on whether to impeach Ms Rousseff in the coming days, following five official sessions in the chamber.
The cancellation of the lower house vote was ordered in response to a request by Rousseff's solicitor general, who had challenged its legitimacy.
Mr Maranhao said the original vote by lower house deputies had "prejudged" Ms Rousseff and denied her "the right to a full defense."
The ruling sparked uproar with Ms Rousseff's allies seeing a possible escape route for the president and her opponents denouncing Mr Maranhao's intervention.
The Senate had been due to start its own voting process on Wednesday, with a majority expected to back suspension of Ms Rousseff. Once suspended, she would face a trial lasting months, with a two-thirds majority needed eventually to eject her from office.
Early signs were that the Senate would ignore Mr Maranhao's order, possibly prompting a decisive battle in the Supreme Court.
The head of the chamber's impeachment committee, Raimundo Lira, said that the vote would go ahead as planned, regardless of Mr Maranhao.
However, there was no immediate word from the powerful Senate president, Renan Calheiros, who was reported to be meeting with party leaders.
A delighted-looking Ms Rousseff interrupted a speech to supporters to say that she'd just got unconfirmed news of the impeachment drive hitting a roadblock.
"I don't know the consequences. Please be cautious," she said, calling on her backers to "defend democracy."
Andrei Perfeito from Gradual Investimentos financial consultants called the development "surreal."
"I don't think it will reverse the process of President (Rousseff's) suspension but without doubt the use of this 'atomic bomb' will buy the president more time for her defense."
The impeachment battle has taken so many unexpected twists that Brazilians refer to it as a real-life version of the Netflix political drama "House of Cards."
Ms Rousseff, from the leftist Workers' Party, is accused of illegally manipulating government budget accounts during her 2014 re-election battle to mask the seriousness of economic problems. But she says the process has been twisted into a coup by right-wingers in the second year of her second term.
Her removal had been looking increasingly certain after the lower house voted in mid-April by an overwhelming majority to send her case to the Senate for trial.
In the Senate, around 50 of the 81 senators have said they planned to vote in favor of an impeachment trial, well over the simple majority needed to open the process.
The vote result had been expected on Thursday, followed shortly after by Ms Rousseff's departure from the presidential offices. Ministers have reportedly already been clearing their desks.
Adding to the confusion, Mr Maranhao, the man at the center of the latest episode, is little-known to most Brazilians.
He took the post of speaker only last week as a replacement for Eduardo Cunha, the veteran speaker and architect of the controversial impeachment drive who was forced by the Supreme Court to stand down over corruption charges.
Pauderney Avelino, leader of the DEM opposition party in the lower house of Congress, expressed "disbelief" at Mr Maranhao's order.
"It's a decision that has no value," he said.
"It's not up to the speaker of the house to intervene in a juridically perfect process.... The process should continue normally." Mr Maranhao was to give a press conference at 4:00 pm (1900 GMT).
The political crisis comes on top of the deepest recession in decades just three months before Rio de Janeiro hosts the Olympic Games from August 5 to 21 - the first Olympics held in South America.
Brazil is also in the midst of a giant corruption scandal involving state oil company Petrobras that has implicated numerous politicians, including allies and enemies of Ms Rousseff.
Ms Rousseff has not been formally accused of corruption like many of her rivals. But prosecutors have called for her to be investigated for allegedly trying to obstruct a probe into the Petrobras affair.
Among the high-profile suspects are Mr Cunha and Ms Rousseff's presidential predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
If Ms Rousseff is suspended, she would be replaced by her vice-president-turned-enemy, Michel Temer.
Mr Temer, a center-right leader, has been alleged to have been involved in the Petrobras affair but he has not been formally investigated. A Sao Paulo court has fined him for campaign financing irregularities and he could face an eight-year ban from seeking elected office.