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article imageBrazil protesters target president's chief foe

By AFP     Nov 13, 2015 in World

Several thousand students protested Friday in the Brazilian capital against embattled President Dilma Rousseff's chief foe Eduardo Cunha, an influential rightwing politician at the center of maneuvers to impeach Rousseff.

Cunha, part of the big Evangelical caucus in Congress and speaker of the lower house, has become one of Brazil's key political players, with powers to decide on whether to put a slew of Rousseff impeachment petitions to the vote.

That, his backing for conservative social causes like opposition to abortion, and accusations that he took millions of dollars in bribes in a huge corruption scandal centered on state oil company Petrobras, have made him a hate figure for the left.

"Cunha is exactly like a dictator. He undermines young people, women and LGBT people," said student leader Barbara Melo, who was among some 4,000 students and other union-backed activists marching along Brasilia's main avenue.

Other protests were expected in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo later, while separate demonstrations specifically opposing Cunha's support for abortion restrictions have gathered steam in the last few weeks, including in Rio late Thursday.

After a steady stream of anti-Rousseff street protests this year -- reflecting the leftist president's rock-bottom popularity ratings -- the anti-Cunha demonstrations are a relatively new phenomenon.

On paper, Cunha belongs to the ruling coalition, but he is in open conflict with Rousseff and the rift has widened and become ever more volatile as the probe into his alleged bribe-taking intensifies.

He has backed a series of legislative initiatives that counter Rousseff's leftwing agenda, including lowering the age of criminal responsibility to 16, opening greater access to firearms, and a push to define family as being restricted to marriage between a man and woman.

In addition, he has helped to stymie the Rousseff government's economic package, contributing to her growing lame-duck status at a time of steep recession.

"Because of the laws he pushes and the corruption scandals he's involved in, Cunha should step down from his speaker's post and let Brazil go on a path of development," said Jose Lourenco Souza Dias, head of the teachers' union in Bahia.

But support for Rousseff herself in the crowd was mixed, with dissatisfaction over her attempts to implement budget cuts, a policy that has lost her much of her bedrock support from the left.

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