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Embattled Brazilian president's coalition collapses

[BRASÍLIA] Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's ruling coalition collapsed Tuesday when her main partner went into opposition, leaving the embattled president increasingly helpless in her fight against impeachment.

The PMDB, the country's largest party, voted to end its alliance with Ms Rousseff's leftist Workers' Party, or PT, with immediate effect.

"From today, at this historic meeting of the PMDB, the PMDB withdraws from the government of President Rousseff," said Senator Romero Juca, the party vice president.

The meeting, broadcast live on national television, was the culmination of a long divorce with Ms Rousseff that leaves Brazil's first female president grasping at straws as she tries to stay in power.

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The vote and announcement took no more than three minutes and was accompanied by singing of the national anthem and shouts of "PT out!"

Senator Aecio Neves, who heads the PSDB opposition party and who narrowly lost to Ms Rousseff when she won re-election in 2014, commented: "Dilma's government is finished." "The exit of the PMDB is the last nail in the coffin," he said.

Ms Rousseff, who is fighting recession, street protests, a mammoth corruption scandal, and the push in Congress for her impeachment, had met PMDB ministers Monday to try to convince them to stay.

But already on Monday, tourism minister Henrique Alves resigned, saying time had "run out" on the president.

The mostly centrist PMDB has long been an awkward partner for the Workers' Party.

But its votes in Congress, where it has 69 of the 513 lower house seats, would have been important to Ms Rousseff in her bid to avoid impeachment, which requires two thirds of the votes in the lower house to pass.

Ms Rousseff also fears that the PMDB's exit will encourage other coalition partners to jump ship.

Lawmakers from both the center-right Progressive Party, which has 49 deputies, and the center-left Social Democratic Party, which has 32, said their parties would meet this week on a possible split.

If she is forced out, PMDB leader Michel Temer - who despite the rupture stays on as Ms Rousseff's vice president - would become interim president in her place.

Ms Rousseff faces impeachment on charges that she illegally borrowed money to boost public spending and mask the severity of the recession. A congressional committee is currently tasked with making a recommendation to the full lower house, which would then vote.

The Brazilian bar association filed a new impeachment petition Monday, seeking to expand the accusations to include allegations of involvement by Ms Rousseff in the multi-billion-dollar corruption scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras.

Although still vice president, Mr Temer, 75, increasingly resembles a politician preparing for power. He met Monday with Mr Neves.

The growing instability has spilled onto the streets with millions of Brazilians marching against Ms Rousseff and smaller, but still vigorous, rallies held in her defense. Another round of pro-Rousseff protests was planned for this Thursday.

Ms Rousseff has called on her mentor, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, to become chief of staff so that he could stiffen resolve in the ranks and put his negotiating skills to use.

But the move prompted a swift backlash from opponents who see the appointment as a bid to give Mr Lula ministerial immunity and protect him from corruption allegations related to the Petrobras probe.

The judge leading the probe controversially released a wire-tapped phone conversation between Ms Rousseff and Mr Lula that was interpreted as showing her giving him the post in order to shield him. Mr Lula has forcefully denied this and the wording of the conversation is ambiguous.

The full Supreme Court is expected to issue a definitive ruling on whether Lula can take up his appointment in the coming days.

The endgame in this shifting of alliances is the impeachment battle, where opponents must reach two-thirds of the lower house vote - 342 deputies - to open a full trial in the Senate.

In the Senate, another two-thirds vote would force her from office.