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Protests swept across Brazil late on Wednesday after explosive phone recordings fuelled accusations that President Dilma Rousseff had appointed her predecessor Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as minister to protect him from arrest.
Military police fired tear gas at demonstrators outside government buildings in Brasília, while groups set fire to a doll resembling the ex-president and waved banners calling for his imprisonment.
Thousands of protesters filled São Paulo’s main avenue, Rio de Janeiro’s Copacabana beach and cities in at least 15 other states.
Federal judge Sérgio Moro, who is leading investigations into corruption at oil company Petrobras, released recordings obtained through a police wire tap late on Wednesday, which sparked anger nationwide when they were aired on radio and television networks.
In one conversation recorded on Wednesday afternoon, Ms Rousseff is heard calling Mr Lula da Silva to tell him she was sending him a document confirming his ministerial appointment and that he should use it “only if it is necessary”.
The recording, which was confirmed by the court, fuelled accusations that Mr Lula da Silva was only appointed as Ms Rousseff’s chief of staff on Wednesday to grant him immunity from Mr Moro, who had the power to grant a mandate for his arrest at any moment.
State prosecutors requested Mr Lula da Silva’s arrest last week over charges of money laundering and fraud, accusing the former president of secretly owning a beachside penthouse at the centre of the country’s corruption scandal — allegations he denies.
A state judge deferred the arrest request to Mr Moro on Monday. However, after Mr Lula da Silva’s nomination was published in a special edition of the Official Gazette late on Wednesday, he now has immunity in every court apart from the Supreme Court.
In response to the wiretaps, Brazil’s presidential palace released a statement accusing Mr Moro of breaking the constitution. It explained the tapped conversation by saying that Ms Rousseff was not sure if Mr Lula da Silva would attend his own swearing-in ceremony so was sending him the document to sign.
Mr Lula da Silva’s lawyer, Cristiano Zanin Martins, told reporters that the decision to release the recordings had been “arbitrary” and intended to stir up protesters.
Opposition lawmakers interrupted a session of Congress on Wednesday, chanting for the resignation of Ms Rousseff, who is already facing impeachment proceedings over allegations she fiddled the country’s accounts to increase campaign spending — accusations she denies.
On Wednesday the Supreme Court ruled on appeals over the format of the proceedings, which have delayed the process since the end of last year.
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