By Damian WROCLAVSKY, Carola SOLÉ
Brasilia (AFP) May 25, 2017
Brazil's President Michel Temer called troops off the streets of the capital Thursday, backtracking after deploying them to guard government buildings following riots by protesters demanding his resignation.
Critics interpreted the troop deployment as a sign of desperation by a president fighting for his political life after a corruption scandal reached his doorstep.
A decree published online in the official journal said the president had revoked a measure to deploy 1,500 federal troops -- a delicate issue in a country with living memory of a military dictatorship.
Shortly afterward, soldiers began to withdraw from around government buildings they had spent the night guarding in Brasilia.
Some of the facades were visibly damaged and burned from Wednesday's riots.
Protesters smashed their way into ministries and fought with riot police on Wednesday in some of the most violent scenes yet in a year of political turbulence.
Defense Minister Raul Jungmann insisted Thursday the deployment was necessary "to stop the barbarity" of the riots.
"We had no choice in order to prevent casualties among public servants and the destruction of public heritage," Jungmann said.
But the issue of troops is sensitive in a country that lived under military rule from 1964-1985.
Columnist Maria Cristina Fernandes in economic daily Valor described the deployment as "the last chance for a show of authority by a government that is finished."
Temer nevertheless defended his government in a video posted on social media, saying "Brazil did not stop and will not stop" despite the recent tension.
- Impeachment calls -
Conservative former vice-president Temer stepped up to replace leftist president Dilma Rousseff last year.
She was impeached for illegally manipulating government accounts, but said the charges were politically trumped up.
Now Temer faces impeachment requests from his own political rivals.
- Violent protests -
Violence erupted on Wednesday after a crowd of demonstrators, estimated by police at 45,000, marched toward the presidential palace, which is flanked by Congress and the government buildings.
Although most of the protesters were peaceful, small groups wearing masks threw stones at police and smashed their way into the agriculture ministry and reportedly also the culture and planning ministries.
Riot police crouching behind black shields lobbed tear gas and stun grenades into the crowd.
When protesters set a fire in the agriculture ministry, employees were forced to flee, a spokesman for the ministry told AFP.
In the lower house of Congress, the session was temporarily suspended after leftist deputies took over the speaker's podium, brandishing signs saying "Temer out."
A count released by the authorities listed 49 injured people and seven detained in the protests.
- Temer on defensive -
Leftist groups and trade unions organized the protests a week after Temer was placed under a corruption probe.
They are demanding his resignation and an end to austerity reforms centered on cuts to the pension system.
Stuck in deep recession for two years, Latin America's biggest economy is just showing signs of returning to growth, although unemployment stands at nearly 14 percent.
But Temer has been on the ropes since allegations that he attempted to pay hush money to a jailed ally.
He has said he did nothing wrong and will not resign. A source in the presidency told AFP on Thursday that Temer was "firm and maneuvering to try to calm the crisis."
Lawmakers have filed 16 separate demands for impeachment in congress. Temer also faces a separate challenge in the Supreme Electoral Court.
Andre Cesar, a political analyst at Hold consultancy, said Temer "cannot survive."
"He doesn't have the minimum conditions for this. But how the end will come for his government is the question."
Toulouse, France (SPX) May 26, 2017
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