Suspended Brazilian president rejects allegations at impeachment trial and accuses her rivals of staging a coup.
Brazil’s suspended president Dilma Rousseff has appeared before the Senate to testify at her impeachment trial, denying allegations of breaking budget rules and saying the future of the country was at stake.
"My government made mistakes, but never betrayed voters," she said on Monday. "I did not commit the crimes that I am accused of in an arbitrary and unjust manner."
Rousseff is accused of having taken illegal state loans to patch budget holes.
The suspended president reiterated her claim that the trial was a "coup d’etat" aimed at removing her from office and destroying her Workers’ Party.
"There is no justification for removing me from power," she said.
"I am innocent. I am an honest person and I have never committed a crime."
She later made a reference to her imprisonment and torture by the military dictatorship in the 1970s for belonging to a far-left group.
"I was very strong then, and at almost 70, I am still strong now," Rousseff said.
She explained that she previously refused to resign, because she was committed to democracy and the rule of law.
"This has been a very dramatic beginning to the trial as many Brazilians expected," said Al Jazeera’s Lucia Newman, reporting from the capital, Brasilia.
"But Rousseff did not say one thing that everyone was expecting to hear; she did not say what would have happened, what would be different, if she were to be reinstated."
Earlier on Monday, Rousseff, 68, was greeted by cheering supporters as she arrived at the Senate to testify for the first time in her defence, just hours before senators were to start voting on her fate.
"Dilma, warrior of the Brazilian homeland," the crowd of supporters shouted.
Momentum to push her out is also fuelled by deep anger at Brazil’s historic recession, political paralysis and a vast corruption scandal centred on state oil giant Petrobras.
Rousseff came to the senate accompanied by heavyweight allies, including her presidential predecessor Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and a dozen former cabinet members.
A small crowd of loyalists gathered from early morning outside the Senate and supporters shouted "Dilma come back!" from cars as they drove past the building’s entrance.
Closing arguments will begin after her testimony on Monday, followed by voting, possibly extending into Wednesday.
Opponents say they will easily reach the necessary two-thirds majority, 54 of 81 senators, to remove her from office.
In that case, Rousseff’s former vice president turned political enemy, Michel Temer, will be confirmed as president until elections in 2018.
Temer, from the centre-right PMDB party, has already been acting president since May. He is hardly more popular than Rousseff, according to opinion polls.
Temer faces harsh questioning over his legitimacy as an unelected president and was loudly booed at the recent Olympic opening ceremony in Rio de Janeiro.
The impeachment case rests on narrow charges that Rousseff took unauthorised state loans to bridge budget shortfalls during her 2014 election to a second term.
Allies have spent the Senate trial arguing that these loans were nothing more than stop-gap measures frequently employed by previous governments.
Opponents, however, have broadened the accusation to paint Rousseff’s loans as part of her disastrous mismanagement, contributing to once-booming Brazil’s slide into recession.
Brazil’s economy shrank by 3.8 percent in 2015 and is forecast to drop a further 3.3 percent this year, the worst performance since the 1930s.
Inflation stands at about nine percent and unemployment at 11 percent.
Rousseff’s side says that decline was caused by forces far beyond the president’s control, notably a worldwide slump in commodity prices, which hit exports hard.
- Rousseff was greeted by cheering supporters as she arrived at the Senate