RIO DE JANEIRO – Thousands of people took to the streets of a dozen Brazilian cities on Thursday to demand the resignation of President Michel Temer, who is the target of a corruption investigation.
Organized mainly via social media, the largest mobilizations took place in Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and the nation’s capital, Brasilia.
Besides Temer’s departure, demonstrators called for early general elections.
The protests materialized hours after Brazil’s Supreme Court authorized an investigation into allegations Temer encouraged the payment of bribes to buy the silence of a former top lawmaker convicted earlier this year of graft.
Justice Edson Fachin, who is overseeing cases related to the investigation of a $2 billion corruption scheme centered on state oil company Petrobras, approved the probe of the president’s conduct.
O Globo daily reported Wednesday that the chairman of Brazilian meatpacking giant JBS, Joesley Batista, told prosecutors as part of plea-bargain testimony that he had secretly recorded a conversation with Temer about hush-money payments to Eduardo Cunha, a former speaker of Brazil’s lower house and close ally of the president.
Cunha was convicted in March of offenses that included receiving bribes in connection with a contract Petrobras signed in the African nation of Benin.
Temer’s legal troubles are the latest development in the Petrobras investigation, which is known as Lava Jato (Car Wash). A former president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, faces several corruption trials related to the probe.
Cunha was the driving force behind last year’s legislative effort that led to the ouster of Lula’s protege and successor, Dilma Rousseff, for violating budget laws. She was replaced by Temer, who had been her vice president.
Temer on Thursday vehemently rejected calls for him to resign from both the opposition and members of his own ruling coalition.
“I won’t resign. I repeat. I won’t resign, and I demand that everything be fully cleared up,” the head of state said in a message to the nation from the Planalto presidential palace.
Under Brazil’s constitution, Temer’s resignation or removal would require Congress to choose someone to serve the balance of Rousseff’s 2015-2019 term.
But groups of lawmakers in both chambers have already drafted bills to hold the presidential election this year instead of 2018, as scheduled.
This latest political crisis caused stock prices to plunge – and trading to be temporarily halted – Thursday on the Sao Paulo Stock Exchange.
The exchange’s benchmark Ibovespa index ended the day down 8.8 percent, while the value of the Brazilian real against the dollar plunged by nearly 9 percent.