Brazilians take to streets to demand Rousseff's impeachment

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Brazilians took to the streets on Sunday to demand President Dilma Rousseff’s ouster, but the first nationwide protests since formal impeachment proceedings began were smaller than similar events earlier this year.

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Pollster Datafolha said 40,000 people turned out in Brazil’s largest city of Sao Paulo, down from 135,000 in an August protest and 210,000 in March. Smaller demonstrations occurred across Brazil from the Amazonian city of Belem to smaller towns in the interior.

“This is just a warm-up, there will be a huge mobilization in January,” said Paloma Morena, a 35-year-old scientist on Sao Paulo’s most famous street, Avenida Paulista, where protesters carried blow-up caricatures of Rousseff and her predecessor, Luíz Inácio Lula da Silva, dressed in prison uniforms.

A large-scale mobilization could increase pressure on lawmakers to vote for Rousseff’s impeachment.

Lower House Speaker Eduardo Cunha opened impeachment proceedings on Dec. 2, agreeing Congress should consider opposition allegations that Rousseff violated budget laws to increase spending during her 2014 re-election campaign.

But many Brazilians are more upset about the worst economic recession in at least 25 years and a corruption scandal at state-run oil firm Petrobras that has ensnared many of Rousseff’s allies. Rousseff is not under investigation, but many question how she could not have known about the corruption as she was chairwoman of the company from 2003 to 2010.

“Inflation is through the roof, unemployment is shockingly high and we get nothing for the amount of taxes we pay,” said Andre Patrao, 47, an economist demonstrating in Rio’s posh Copacabana neighborhood.

Currently the opposition is not thought to have the votes to impeach Rousseff, who denies mishandling public accounts and has pledged to fight impeachment in order to finish her second term.

If a house committee decides in favor of impeachment, the process will go to a full vote on the house floor, where the opposition needs two-thirds of the votes to begin a 180-day impeachment trial in the Senate. During that trial, Rousseff would be suspended and replaced by Vice President Michel Temer.

The Supreme Court has suspended impeachment proceedings until it rules on the validity of a secret ballot vote that selected the members of the house committee. Meanwhile, Speaker Cunha, a former ally who broke with Rousseff, is facing formal charges in the Petrobras investigation over allegations he took bribes.

Brazil’s largest umbrella union CUT has called a protest to support Rousseff on Wednesday.

Additional reporting by Stephen Eisenhammer in Rio de Janeiro and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Editing by Andrew Roche, Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis