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Protests cloud Brazil acting president's political honeymoon

Street protests and controversy over the absence of female ministers clouded Brazilian acting President Michel Temer's political honeymoon Monday as he began his first full week in power.

[BRASÍLIA] Street protests and controversy over the absence of female ministers clouded Brazilian acting President Michel Temer's political honeymoon Monday as he began his first full week in power.

Mr Temer took over from president Dilma Rousseff last week after the Senate voted to open an impeachment trial on charges that she illegally manipulated the budget. The 75-year-old center-right leader has vowed to reverse Rousseff's leftist course in an attempt to haul Brazil back from its deepest recession in decades.

Although a cabinet - which will be reduced from a bloated 32 ministries to 23 - has already been named, there was a delay to the nomination in the key post of central bank head.

New finance minister Henrique Meirelles, whose early pronouncements are being carefully watched by the markets, had been due to announce the nominee Monday but put it off for a day, Brazilian newspapers reported.

In a television interview late Sunday, Mr Temer vowed to unite Brazil after months of increasingly divisive debate over the impeachment of Ms Rousseff, who accuses Mr Temer of leading a coup.

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"Unification of the country means unifying political parties, employers and workers, and making a joint effort in Brazilian society so that we can get out of the crisis we find ourselves in," he said on Globo television.

But just days into the job, Mr Temer finds himself under steady attack from the left.

Jeering and pot banging could be heard in parts of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo during his television interview, a form of protest that used to dog Ms Rousseff to the point where she began avoiding broadcast appearances.

Street protests also took place Sunday in several cities, including the capital Brasilia and the financial center Sao Paulo.

Another was held Monday in Rio de Janeiro, which hosts the Olympics in less than three months. Activists occupied offices of the education and culture ministries, which are being merged under Mr Temer's plan.

Although the scale of opposition demonstrations is so far modest, Ms Rousseff's fight against impeachment in the Senate trial, which could take as long as six months, means that Mr Temer is having trouble settling in.

"The popular reaction to the coup continues and the protests should continue," Rui Falcao, president of Ms Rousseff's Workers' Party, said Monday.

Polls show Mr Temer is almost as unpopular as Ms Rousseff.

His naming of a cabinet comprised entirely of white men has put him on the defensive.

In his Sunday interview he looked to sidestep the controversy, insisting that women would be given powerful posts, although not at ministerial level. But his reference to women as "representatives of the feminine world" prompted derision on opposition social media.

Another hurdle facing Mr Temer is to make good on his promise to cut costs and streamline the overburdened state budget. He has promised to slash up to 5,000 civil service jobs and says that he, unlike Ms Rousseff, is in a position to deal with Congress over unpopular budget reductions.

Mr Temer was due to meet Monday with the main unions to discuss social security reforms. But one of the biggest groups, the CUT, boycotted the session.

A constitutional lawyer who was Ms Rousseff's vice president thanks to an uneasy coalition between his PMDB party and the Workers' Party, Mr Temer says he feels free to act in the interests of the country because he likely won't seek election in the scheduled 2018 presidential vote.

"I realize I don't have popular backing," he said. But "I don't have to make gestures or do things leading to an eventual reelection. I can even be, let's say, unpopular, because as long as I produce benefits for the country that's enough for me."


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