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Brazil leader boosted after panel rejects corruption claim

A congressional committee has rejected a recommendation to try Brazil's president for corruption, handing him a symbolic victory a day after a former president was convicted of corruption and money laundering.

The corruption cases against two major Brazilian figures underscored the extent of political turmoil in Latin America's largest country, where a spreading corruption investigation has uncovered a scheme to exchange bribes and kickbacks for political favours and public contracts.

That probe has led to an accusation that President Michel Temer accepted bribes from a meatpacking executive in exchange for helping the company obtain favourable government decisions. Mr Temer has denied wrongdoing.

Earlier this week, a legislator appointed to study Mr Temer's case recommended that the charge be accepted, a setback for Mr Temer. But on Thursday, a Chamber of Deputies committee rejected that recommendation, swinging the pendulum back in Mr Temer's favour.

Both moves are largely symbolic. The decision to suspend Mr Temer and put him on trial rests with the full lower house, which is scheduled to vote on the matter August 2. If two-thirds of the 513 deputies should vote against Mr Temer, lower house Speaker Rodrigo Maia would take over presidential duties while Brazil's Supreme Court tried the president.

After the contentious committee vote, which occasionally descended into shouting matches, some politicians cried "Temer out!" and "Purchased vote!" Others responded with "Long live Temer!"

The president issued a statement calling the vote "a win for democracy and the law". Mr Temer, who has single-digit popularity in the polls, also said his allies are part of a "solid majority" that has "civic courage" to defend him.

Some politicians complained that the extensive substitution of committee members in recent days made the committee vote a farce. Party leaders have the right to replace their members on committees as they see fit, and Brazilian media reported that parties allied with Mr Temer made several such substitutions - in an apparent bid to guarantee the vote went the president's way.

The mammoth "Operation Car Wash" investigation has led to political tensions in Brazil between those who consider the prosecutors and judges pursuing corruption to be heroes and those who think some of the prosecutions are politically motivated.

A day after being convicted of corruption, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva stoked those flames with a defiant public defence accusing his political opponents of trying to prevent him from becoming president again.

Federal judge Sergio Moro, hailed by many Brazilians as a hero and by others as a zealot, found Mr Silva guilty on Wednesday and sentenced him to nearly 10 years in prison, though he remains free while an appeal is heard.

AP

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