March 11, 2016 / 8:58 PM / 2 years ago

Brazil military will not meddle in political crisis: minister

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Brazilian military will not interfere in a deepening political crisis that threatens leftist President Dilma Rousseff, Defense Minister Aldo Rebelo told Reuters in an interview.

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff speaks during a news conference at the Planalto Palace in Brasilia, Brazil March 11, 2016. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Rebelo, a senior member of the country’s Communist Party, dismissed media reports that the military is growing anxious about the prospect of social unrest amid growing opposition calls for Rousseff’s removal.

“The armed forces have no interest in being a protagonist in domestic politics,” Rebelo said late on Thursday. “The solution to the political problem lies within political institutions.”

The brief detention last week of Rousseff’s political mentor and predecessor, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, as part of a corruption probe at state-run oil company Petrobras has revived calls for her impeachment in Congress.

The sweeping investigation has ensnared dozens of top politicians from the ruling coalition, further hurting Rousseff’s popularity, which was already near record lows due to a crippling recession.

Since Brazil returned to democracy in 1985, the military has had little influence over local politics.

The South American nation was scarred by a U.S.-backed military dictatorship that tortured and imprisoned hundreds of dissidents after it overthrew left-wing President Joao Goulart in 1964.

Rousseff, herself a former Marxist militant who was jailed and tortured by the regime in the 1970s, has said she will not resign and has blamed her opponents for stoking the economic crisis.

State prosecutors’ request on Thursday for the arrest of Lula in another case has raised tensions ahead of anti-government demonstrations called for Sunday.

Rebelo denied that state governors have called for military reinforcements to avoid clashes between pro- and anti-government supporters on Sunday. He said he does not expect demonstrations to turn violent.

“I don’t know if that aggressive language we see in the social media will make its way to the streets,” Rebelo said. “I don’t believe this (demonstration) will go beyond what we have seen in the past.”

After initially drawing millions to the streets the peaceful demonstrations calling for Rousseff’s impeachment lost momentum late last year. Organizers expect Sunday’s rallies to again lure millions of Brazilians.

Additional reporting by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Cynthia Osterman

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