Brazil Senate committee votes for Rousseff to stand trial

BRASILIA (Reuters) - A Senate committee recommended on Friday that Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff be put on trial by the full chamber for breaking budget laws, moving a step closer to the likely suspension of the leftist leader from office next week.

Despite renewed promised by Rousseff on Friday to resist her removal, her chances for staying in office are dimming. Her departure would come at a time when a majority of Brazilians are against Rousseff because of an economic recession and a massive corruption scandal that has exposed wrongdoing by ruling party officials.

The full Senate is expected to vote to put her on trial on Wednesday, which would immediately suspend Rousseff for the duration of a trial that could last six months. During that period, Vice President Michel Temer would replace her as acting president.

The upper house committee voted 15-5 to accept the charges against Rousseff, which involve budget irregularities that critics say masked budget problems while she ran for re-election in 2014, and her opponents are certain to muster the simple majority needed to begin a trial.

“I will resist until the last day,” Rousseff said at an event where she announced the delivery of low-cost housing. The president said she would not resign because she committed no crime, and called her looming ouster a “coup d’etat.”

If the Senate convicts Rousseff, by a two-thirds majority vote to oust her, Temer would serve out the remainder of Rousseff’s second term through 2018.

Local newspaper surveys say the opposition has 50 of the 54 votes needed, with many of the 10 undecided senators likely to favor her ouster.

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Rousseff has struggled to survive politically in the face of Brazil’s biggest ever corruption scandal and its worst recession since the 1930s. Her removal would mark an end to 13 years of leftist rule by the Workers Party that began in 2003 under her mentor, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

While Rousseff is not directly accused of corruption, Brazil's top prosecutor has asked for her to be investigated for obstructing justice in the kickback scandal that has engulfed state-run oil company Petroleo Brasileiro SA PETR4.SA and fueled Brazil's political crisis.

In a separate initiative launched by the opposition, Rousseff’s 2014 re-election campaign is being investigated by an electoral court for alleged funding with bribe money.

At Rousseff’s presidential palace Friday, officials had glum faces and appeared resigned to the end of her administration.

One aide denied they were packing up already, but added: “No doubt, we have to start organizing things.”

Echoing the sense of an administration that has run out of time, no reporters showed up for a news conference called by Women Affairs Secretary Eleonora Menicucci, a close Rousseff aide. She ended up speaking only to a government television camera.

Rousseff’s supporters on the Senate committee have called for annulment of the impeachment proceedings because the man who launched them last year, lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha, was himself removed from office on Thursday by the Supreme Court for obstructing the investigation of corruption accusations against him.

The top court has so far dismissed all government requests to halt the impeachment proceedings.

Workers Party Senator Lindbergh Farias said the ouster of Rousseff was aimed at undoing Lula’s work to help the poor, and at rolling back workers’ benefits, privatizing state companies and aligning Brazil’s foreign policy closer to the United States.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle and Maria Carolina Marcello; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Frances Kerry