Rousseff: Brazil at a 'Grave Moment' as Impeachment Looms

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The silhouette of a demonstrator in support of Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is seen on a sign outside the signing ceremony on climate change held Friday at the United Nations Headquarters in Manhattan, New York. Shannon Stapleton/Reuters

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff took her battle against impeachment to the United Nations on Friday, warning the international community her country is suffering a "grave moment," while her critics said she wants to use the trip to rally support against what she calls a "coup."

Rousseff could be removed from office within weeks by the Senate in an impeachment process that has paralyzed her government and thrown Brazil into its deepest political crisis since its return to civilian rule in 1985.

Rousseff suffered a crushing defeat on Sunday when the lower house of Congress voted to impeach her, almost guaranteeing the leftist leader will be forced from office in a Senate trial just months before the nation hosts the Olympics.

The impeachment has polarized the country, with her supporters regarding the attempt to oust her for breaking budget laws as a "coup without weapons," while opponents say the process followed the law and the constitution.

The battle for the political narrative turned international on Friday, as Rousseff traveled to New York and her vice president gave interviews to two U.S. newspapers.

Speaking at the United Nations during the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change, Rousseff said Brazil had overcome military dictatorship three decades ago and built a "vibrant democracy" that will prevail.

"I cannot conclude my remarks without mentioning the grave moment Brazil is currently undergoing," she said. "I have no doubt our people will be capable of preventing any setbacks."

Rousseff said foreign leaders had expressed solidarity.

Her last-minute decision to go to the U.N. brought the Brazilian crisis to the streets of New York. Outside the U.N. headquarters, some 100 Rousseff backers chanted in support of the beleaguered leftist president, while about 50 opponents chanted back at them.

If Rousseff is impeached by the Senate in a vote expected in mid-May, Rousseff will be suspended pending a trial and replaced by Vice President Michel Temer.

Temer has denied Rousseff's accusations that he has openly plotted against her and rejects the notion that a "coup" is underway.

In interviews published on Friday, he criticized Rousseff's trip and said he was ready to govern Brazil if she is unseated.

He told the Wall Street Journal Rousseff was damaging Brazil's image at a time when it needed to attract foreign investment to pull out of the worst recession since the 1930s.

To the New York Times, he said: "I'm very worried about the president's intention to say Brazil is some minor republic where coups are carried out."

Justice Dias Toffoli, who was appointed to the Supreme Court by Rousseff, also criticized the president for tarnishing Brazil's democratic credentials abroad, joining two other judges of the 11-member court to rebuke her publicly this week.

"To allege that a coup is underway is an offense to Brazil's institutions... because it gives Brazil a bad image," Toffoli told TV Globo.