Leftists protest as Brazil president seeks corruption probe suspension

Brazil’s President Michel Temer speaks at Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil, on Saturday. — Reuters

BRASILIA — Leftist groups plan protests across Brazil on Sunday to demand the resignation of President Michel Temer and the holding of new elections in the wake of an explosive corruption scandal.

The demonstrations will be the first test of opponents’ ability to turn widespread popular anger into pressure on the center-right president, who is accused of obstructing a corruption investigation.

“Brazil takes to the streets this Sunday to say ‘Enough of this government!’” the trade unions association CUT said in a statement.

The main rallies are expected in the capital Brasilia and Sao Paulo. However, another series of protests announced by more center-right groups have been called off.

Temer is fighting for his political life after the release on Wednesday of a secret recording in which he appears to be heard giving the green light to paying hush money to a jailed politician.

He opened a dramatic counter-attack on Saturday, claiming that the recording had been “manipulated and doctored.”

“I will continue to lead the government,” Temer said in a nationally televised speech, touting signs that Brazil is finally inching out of its worst recession in history.

Prosecutor General Rodrigo Janot accuses Temer of attempting to block a huge anti-corruption investigation known as “Car Wash.”

The probe has upended Brazil, indicting scores of politicians or subjecting them to probes into alleged bribe-taking and embezzlement. Temer is only the latest to be pulled into the maelstrom.

At the heart of his problems is the conversation he had with an executive from the JBS meat-packing business in which the president allegedly blesses monthly payments of hush money to the jailed former lower house speaker Eduardo Cunha.

He is in prison after a “Car Wash” judge convicted him of bribe-taking, but the powerful insider has long been rumored to be threatening to spill secrets on other politicians.

Temer says he never paid hush money and says his conversation with the executive was misinterpreted, and that the recording itself has been distorted.

To combat demands for his impeachment, Temer must keep his ruling alliance together, centered on his own center-right PMDB party and the PSDB social democrats.

So far, major parties appear to be sitting on the fence, showing little overt support but also not pulling out.

A smaller party, the PSB, with one minister in the government, did quit on Saturday.

The PSDB leadership was set to hold a meeting on Sunday at about 2000 GMT.

A spokeswoman would not say whether a formal decision on the party’s future in the government is on the agenda.

In an ominous sign for Temer, the powerful Globo media group turned fully against him in an editorial on Friday declaring he “has lost the moral, ethical, political and administrative conditions to continue governing.”

There was some good news for the president, however.

Sao Paulo Mayor Joao Doria — a rising PSDB star whom many see as a strong candidate for president in a scheduled 2018 election — appealed for calm, telling Folha newspaper that Temer’s austerity reforms must “survive.” — AFP