NEW YORK (Reuters) - Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff denounced her impeachment as a “coup” to an international audience on Friday, and said she would appeal to the Mercosur bloc of South American nations for Brazil to be suspended if democratic process is broken.
“I would appeal to the democracy clause if there were, from now on, a rupture of what I consider democratic process,” she told reporters in New York.
Mercosur has a democratic clause that can be triggered when an elected government is overthrown in any of its member states, as happened in Paraguay in 2012. A breach results in suspension from meetings and can lead to the country losing its trade benefits.
Rousseff’s comments were the strongest signal yet that she could continue fighting her ouster if the Senate removes her from office.
The impeachment process has “all the characteristics of a coup” as it has no legal basis, she said, in an attempt to rally international support for her political narrative.
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.
The president denied her cabinet is hobbled by impeachment proceedings but said the country currently lacked the political stability to balance its fiscal accounts.
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 follows the law and the constitution.
Rousseff adopted a softer tone earlier on Friday in a speech to the United Nations during the signing of the Paris Agreement on climate change, in which she avoided the word “coup.”
“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.s
Her last-minute decision to go to the United Nations 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.
“There won’t be any setbacks. The impeachment will go ahead,” said opposition Congressman Jose Carlos Aleluia, who was sent to observe Rousseff’s speech at the U.N. by her nemesis, lower house Speaker Eduardo Cunha.
“The accusations against the President are very serious. Her actions led to economic chaos, besides violating the Constitution,” Cunha’s office said in a statement.
Rousseff is being impeached for manipulating public accounts, a charge that she denies.
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 comments to reporters on Friday, Temer said Rousseff’s speech was “adequate” but asked for an end to attacks on him that hurt Brazil’s standing.
In interviews with two U.S. newspapers published on Friday, Temer criticized Rousseff’s trip and said he was ready to govern Brazil if she is unseated, though he denied he was already forming a shadow cabinet.
Temer told the Wall Street Journal that Rousseff was damaging Brazil’s image at a time when it needed to attract foreign investment to pull the country 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 under way is an offense to Brazil’s institutions... because it gives Brazil a bad image,” Toffoli told TV Globo.
Additional reporting by Leonardo Goy in Brasilia; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Diane Craft and Mary Milliken