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Judgment vote looms for Brazil's Rousseff

Brazil's suspended president Dilma Rousseff faced judgment Tuesday in a Senate vote expected to remove her from office despite her dramatic claim of being the victim of a coup.

[BRASILIA] Brazil's suspended president Dilma Rousseff faced judgment Tuesday in a Senate vote expected to remove her from office despite her dramatic claim of being the victim of a coup.

The morning after Ms Rousseff defended herself in a 14-hour session, lawyers made their final arguments in an emotional final hearing at an impeachment trial likely to end 13 years of leftist rule.

The country's first female president, 68, confronted her accusers Monday, insisting she is innocent and warning that Brazilian democracy is in danger.

She is accused of having taken illegal state loans to patch budget holes in 2014, masking the country's problems as it slid into its deepest recession in decades.

A lead lawyer making the case against Ms Rousseff, Janaina Paschoal, wept as she asked forgiveness for causing her "suffering" by driving her from power - but insisted it was the right thing to do.

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"Impeachment is a constitutional remedy that we need to resort to when the situation gets particularly serious, and that is what has happened," Ms Paschoal said, rejecting Ms Rousseff's "coup" claim.

"The Brazilian people must be aware that nothing illegal and illegitimate is being done here." Ms Rousseff's lawyer Jose Eduardo Cardozo retorted that Ms Rousseff was being made to pay for supporting corruption investigations against her rivals.

Senators are due to hold a final debate before voting, with the session likely to stretch into Wednesday.

Two thirds, or 54, of the 81 senators must vote in favor of impeachment to strip Ms Rousseff of the presidency.

Recalling how she was tortured under Brazil's military dictatorship in the 1970s, Ms Rousseff on Monday urged senators during her testimony to "vote against impeachment, vote for democracy... Do not accept a coup."

However, momentum to push her out of office appears unstoppable, fuelled by deep anger over Brazil's devastating recession, months of political paralysis and a vast corruption scandal centred on the state oil giant Petrobras.

Leading newspaper Folha calculated on Tuesday that 59 senators were set to vote for impeachment.

Ms Rousseff would be replaced by her vice president turned bitter enemy Michel Temer. He said he was watching the process with "complete calm".

If Ms Rousseff is expelled, he plans to fly to China for a G20 summit as soon as he is sworn in.

Despite her strong words in the Senate, public reaction to Ms Rousseff's impeachment trial has been characterised by widespread indifference, as Brazilians struggle with rising inflation and unemployment.

Some 2,000 flag-waving supporters rallied to support her near the Senate building in the capital Brasilia - a fraction of the crowds her Workers' Party has drawn in the past.

Protesters also gathered in Sao Paulo, where they lit fires and riot police fired tear gas to disperse them on Monday.

The Workers' Party under Ms Rousseff and her predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is credited with raising around 29 million Brazilians out of poverty.

But many now blame the party for the country's multiple ills, accusing Ms Rousseff of mismanagement in particular.

Mr Temer, of the centre-right PMDB party, has served as acting president since May, using his brief period in power to steer the government towards the right.

Although that has earned plaudits from investors, it remains uncertain whether he will have voters' support to push through the painful austerity reforms he promises.

Ms Rousseff has barely double digit approval ratings. But Mr Temer is hardly more popular, according to opinion polls.

Unlike many high-profile politicians, Ms Rousseff has not been accused of trying to enrich herself through embezzlement or bribes. There is also lingering sympathy for her suffering under the dictatorship.

Although she spoke mostly in a measured tone on Monday, her voice cracked and she appeared close to tears as she recalled being tortured as a young leftist guerrilla and years later suffering from cancer.

"Twice I have seen the face of death close up," she said. "Today I fear only for the death of democracy."


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