May 29, 2018 / 9:43 PM / 7 months ago

Brazil's Temer downplays threat of coup amid truckers' protest

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Brazilian President Michel Temer said on Tuesday there was no chance that a nationwide truckers’ protest that has paralysed Latin America’s biggest economy will spark a military coup and topple his government.

A woman waits in line at a gas station in Porto Alegre, Brazil May 29, 2018. REUTERS/Diego Vara

Temer, speaking to a small group of foreign journalists at an investment forum in Sao Paulo, batted down questions about risks of a military intervention.

The nine-day demonstrations by truck drivers against diesel price hikes has emptied roads and left major cities running short on food, gasoline and medical supplies. The nationwide protest has been has been slow to unwind despite a raft of concessions that Temer offered over the weekend.

Some striking truckers are calling for a coup, a hotly debated topic on social media, and fringe groups who want the military back in charge have been a constant presence during anti-corruption protests in recent years.

“There is zero chance of military intervention,” Temer said through a translator. “What I see is a rejection both in the Ministry of Defense and throughout the military forces to any kind of military intervention.”

But polling shows that Temer is Brazil’s least popular president since the country’s 1964-85 military junta ended. He also remains under investigation amid allegations of graft.

If Brazil’s Prosecutor General Raquel Dodge were to decide to charge Temer, it would be up to a congressional vote on whether he would be tried before the Supreme Court.

Temer last year fought off two such corruption charges, but with general elections in October and polls consistently demonstrating the public’s deep dissatisfaction with political leaders across the board, it is not clear that he retains congressional support to survive any potential new charges.

TOUGH STANCE

Temer said in a television interview that protests by truck drivers still parked on motorways should be resolved by Wednesday, though his government still has to deliver on its pledge to cut the price of diesel by 0.46 real ($0.12) per litre.

A bill approved by the Senate on Tuesday included a tax exemption on diesel inserted by the lower house, but Temer is expected to veto the fuel provision and find a different way to fund the costly concession to truckers.

Temer said hefty fines were being levied on distribution firms found to be supporting the strike, but said he hoped tougher action would not be necessary if the truckers moved vehicles off the roads.

Earlier on Tuesday, Public Security Minister Raul Jungmann said the government had started taking tougher action against the truckers, threatening to crack down on alleged political agitators contributing to the crisis.

The more aggressive stance underscored the government’s mounting urgency to end the protest.

The highway blockades and fuel shortages have halted industries from automaking to sugarcane crushing, hammering exports of everything from beef and soybeans to coffee and cars.

Brazil’s CNA farm lobby said producers have lost 6.6 billion reais ($1.77 billion) so far during the truckers protest. CNA said that did not take into account losses for food processors, industries and makers of inputs.

Disruption to supplies of animal feed has had a devastating impact on the nation’s livestock.

Some 70 million chickens had been slaughtered as of Monday because producers cannot feed them, said the poultry and pork processing association ABPA.

Some factions within the loosely organised truckers’ movement have added to the demands and ignored a call to demobilize by industry group Abcam, which says it represents 600,000 drivers and spearheaded the early protests.

Slideshow (7 Images)

Oil industry regulator ANP said fuel distribution had begun to improve in cities such as Rio de Janeiro and the capital Brasilia, but it remained scarce in several regions, including the business hub of Sao Paulo.

It will take at least a week for fuel distribution to return to normal, according to ANP.

($1 = 3.7256 Brazilian reais)

Reporting by Simon Webb; additional reporting by Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo, Pedro Fonseca and Rodrigo Viga Gaier in Rio de Janeiro, and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; editing by Brad Haynes, Susan Thomas and G Crosse

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