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Brazil Senate defies order to suspend speaker

(FILES) This file photo taken on December 01, 2016 shows Senate's President Renan Calheiros speaking during a public hearing on the bill that establishes the abuse of authority for judges and prosecutors, in the Senate in Brasilia. Brazil's supreme court suspended the Senate's powerful speaker, Renan Calheiros, on December 5, 2016, ahead of him going on trial for alleged corruption. EVARISTO SA / AFP

(FILES) This file photo taken on December 01, 2016 shows Senate’s President Renan Calheiros speaking during a public hearing on the bill that establishes the abuse of authority for judges and prosecutors, in the Senate in Brasilia. Brazil’s supreme court suspended the Senate’s powerful speaker, Renan Calheiros, on December 5, 2016, ahead of him going on trial for alleged corruption.<br />EVARISTO SA / AFP

Brazil’s Senate on Tuesday rejected a judge’s order to suspend its speaker who faces trial for alleged embezzlement in a scandal that threatens to destabilise President Michel Temer.

The chamber’s governing panel said it would keep speaker Renan Calheiros in his post until a full session of all 11 judges in the Supreme Court rules on whether he should be suspended.

“Removing the speaker of the Senate from his post nine days before the end of his term… through a monocratic decision… even in Brazil, democracy does not deserve such a fate,” Calheiros told reporters after meeting with the panel.

Supreme court judge Marco Aurelio Mello on Monday ordered the suspension of Calheiros, 61, the third most powerful official in Brazil.

That decision deepened the political drama in Brazil, worsening the outlook for Temer as he struggles to lift Latin America’s biggest economy out of crisis.

It threatened to derail his legislation for a cap on public spending.

Calheiros’s allies in the Senate filed an appeal at the Supreme Court on Tuesday arguing that his suspension poses “an enormous risk to the normal functioning of legislative work.”

The supreme court last week ordered Calheiros to face trial on embezzlement charges. He has denied accusations he used public money to make support payments to a woman with whom he had a child.

In a separate case, Calheiros is among numerous top politicians including an ex-president and lawmakers accused of helping steal billions from the state oil firm Petrobras.

Calheiros had tried unsuccessfully last week to push through an urgent reform that would challenge judges’ powers to investigate corruption.

Temer went from vice-president to president this year when he and Calheiros drove proceedings that saw Brazil’s previous president, Dilma Rousseff, impeached for fiddling with government books.

Although Temer has not been formally investigated himself over the Petrobras scandal, it has forced the resignation of several of his ministers.

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Michel TemerRenan Calheiros
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