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Soggy protesters demand impeachment of Brazil's president: 'We have to fight for better'

Soggy protesters demand impeachment of Brazil's president: 'We have to fight for better'
Protesters march in the rain in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 21, 2017, demanding the impeachment of President Michel Temer. (Jill Langlois / For The Times)

Protesters turned out by the thousands in heavy rain on Sunday to demand the impeachment of Brazilian President Michel Temer.

According to organizers, some 20,000 people brought their banners, signs and chants of "Fora Temer" ("Out with Temer") to Sao Paulo's main art museum, the traditional gathering place for protests in recent years.

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Other cities across the country also held protests against the president, as well as other politicians who are suspected in a widespread corruption scheme known as Lava Jato, or Car Wash, that involves money laundering and the payment of millions of dollars in bribes.

In Rio de Janeiro, protesters gathered in front of the home of Lower House speaker, Rodrigo Maia, who is expected to be next in line for the presidency if Temer is removed and an election is not called.

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The Brazilian Order of Attorneys decided early Sunday to formally request Temer's impeachment after a 25-1 vote in favor of his removal.

Unlike past protests in the city, the march Sunday involved people from both the political right and left coming together with the objective of removing an unelected president who reportedly supported the payment of bribes to hush up the impeached Lower House speaker, Eduardo Cunha, who is serving a 15-year sentence for corruption, money laundering and tax evasion.

In recordings that were made public by a newspaper last week and then released by the Supreme Court on Friday, Temer and businessman Joesley Batista are heard speaking, and the president appears to give the go-ahead to continue paying hush money.

"It's unfortunate," said Carolina Dutra, a social work student who came out to Sao Paulo's protest on Sunday. "We didn't expect anything less though, did we? It's not just Temer. It's also [Sen.] Aecio [Neves], and it's all of Congress. We have to fight for better. It will only get better if the rest of us have more opportunities."

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Social work student Carolina Dutra protests in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 21, 2017.
Social work student Carolina Dutra protests in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on May 21, 2017. (Jill Langlois / For The Times)

In plea-bargain testimony given to Brazil's Supreme Court, Batista accused Temer, as well as Neves and former Presidents Dilma Rousseff and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of receiving millions in bribes. Temer became president in September when Roussett was impeached.

Neves, who has already been removed from his post, was also recorded demanding the equivalent of $615,000 in bribes to pay for his defense in the corruption scheme case. Federal police then traced the money with a tracking device to Neves' cousin, Frederico Pacheco de Medeiros, who has since been arrested.

Neves' sister, Andrea Neves, a strategist for her brother who is said to have shaped his image, was also arrested.

Several politicians came out to Sunday's protest, including Councilman Eduardo Suplicy, who is one of the founding members of Rousseff and Lula's leftist Workers' Party.

"When will this come to an end?" he asked the crowd from on top of a sound-equipped truck. "We need to hold a general strike. We need the country to come to a stop. We need to make it very clear: We will not lose any more rights."

The explosive testimony against the president and other members of government is also expected to derail the controversial pension reform that Temer was attempting to push through Congress before the accusations against him came to light.

"He needs to step down," said ironworker Carlos Alberto Debrito at the protest in Sao Paulo. "Workers are losing their rights [because of the changes the president is making]. We will never be able to retire like this."

Temer has denied any wrongdoing following the release of Batista's testimony, in which the businessman also claims that bribes were paid to ensure Rousseff would be removed from office.

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Despite a 4% approval rating even before the release of the new allegations against him, Temer has said he will not step down.

"The only future for Brazil now is an election," Debrito said. "There are lots of bad politicians out there, but there are lots of good people who can take their places too."

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Langlois is a special correspondent.

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