Judges knock down challenge to Brazilian ex-president Silva

Published: Saturday 19th March 2016 by The News Editor

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A Brazilian appeals court has slapped down a second attempt to block a cabinet post for former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and tens of thousands of his supporters rallied to back an embattled government facing a host of crises.

Mr Silva was sworn in as chief aide to President Dilma Rousseff on Thursday, a post that will let the charismatic politician help the president battle an impeachment effort and one that also makes it harder to investigate any possible links to a corruption scandal at the state oil company.

Opponents quickly won injunctions from two judges to block his appointment, but both were quickly overturned.

Later in the afternoon a federal judge in the city of Assis, Sao Paulo state, ordered a third injunction blocking Mr Silva from assuming his cabinet post. The Solicitor General’s Office told the G1 news portal it planned to file an appeal but did not specify when.

Supporters of Mr Silva, who was one of the world’s most famous leaders as president from 2003 to 2010, gathered in rallies across Brazil, particularly in the industrial south, where the former factory worker has his base.

In Sao Paulo, tens of thousands gathered on Avenida Paulista in front of the city’s art museum. Most wore red T-shirts and caps and frequently chanted, “Lula, the minister of hope”. The respected Datafolha polling agency estimated 95,000 people took part in the rally, while police estimates put turnout at 80,000.

When Mr Silva appeared on top of a large sound truck to address the crowd he was greeted with loud cheers and shouts of “Lula, Lula”.

“Next week, if there is no impediment, I will start to proudly serve President Dilma and the Brazilian people,” he said.

“I am not going back to the government to fight but to help,” he said. “I am going back to help President Dilma do what must be done – re-establish peace and hope. There is no room for hate in this country.”

He wound up his 20-minute speech staring at the crowd and shouting: “There will be no coup.”

The political turmoil comes as Brazil prepares to host the Summer Olympics in August and Latin America’s most populous nation faces crises on several fronts. The country is at the centre of an outbreak of the Zika virus, which health experts believe can cause abnormally small heads in newborns, and its economy, long an engine for neighbouring countries, has contracted by nearly 4%. Inflation has spiked and announcements of job layoffs have become common.

Ms Rousseff’s opponents accuse her of trying to help Mr Silva avoid legal woes. Less than two weeks ago, he was taken in for questioning in the sprawling Petrobras kickback probe that has ensnared allies and rivals of the former president. Cabinet members cannot be investigated, charged or imprisoned unless authorised by the Supreme Court.

Rousseff supporters have a different take: they say 70-year-old Mr Silva, known for his ability to build consensus and disarming charisma, could save her job and help bring the economy back from the abyss.

Ms Rousseff, with approval ratings in the single digits, is fighting attempts to oust her over allegations of fiscal mismanagement unrelated to the Petrobras case. The move toward impeachment advanced this week as the lower house established a special commission on the matter.

Both Ms Rousseff and Mr Silva have repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Published: Saturday 19th March 2016 by The News Editor

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