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15 Nov, Thursday
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Arruda leaves party before being thrown out

Arruda leaves party before being thrown out

Mounted military police attack a lone protester on
the ground in Brasilia on Wednesday.
 
THE embattled governor of the Federal District, Jose Roberto Arruda, announced his departure from the Democratas party yesterday at a press conference during which he read from a prepared statement. He did not take any questions from the press.

Accused of running a vast bribery scheme by the Federal Police, video surveillance tapes were broadcast on national television showing him and several other political allies accepting wads of cash from private companies that had been awarded lucrative contracts with the Federal District’s government.

Arruda’s move was a strategic one to preempt his former party from meeting today to vote to throw him out. He had asked the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to stop the Democratas from holding that meeting, but the court ruled yesterday morning that it could not stop what was essentially an internal party matter. In his prepared statement, the governor emphasized that he was withdrawing himself from the election next year, but that he intended to stay on and finish the 2,000 projects that his government has ongoing in the Federal District, home to Brazil’s capital of Brasilia.

Some observers have noted that Arruda will try to hang on for dear life, but that the amount of corruption evidence against him is vast and that ultimately he will be forced to resign from the governorship.

Anti-corruption activists have been holding anti-Arruda protests in Brasilia everyday this week, with the most violent one taking place on Wednesday when 600 anti-riot military police on horseback essentially attacked more than 1,500 peaceful demonstrators with their horses, billy clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets. Horrifying pictures of policemen ganging up on lone demonstrators kneeling on the ground were printed in newspapers and shown on television. Col. José Belizário Silva Filho, who was in charge of the battalion unleashed against the demonstrators, hotly defended his men’s actions at a press conference on Thursday, even after video footage showed him rolling on the ground as he tussled with a protestor. “Did I hurt him deliberately?” he asked defensively. “Our actions were perfect!”

The head of the military police in the Federal District, Col. Luiz Henrique Fonseca, admitted that the troops under Silva Filho’s command had committed excesses in trying to contain the protesters and has opened an investigation into the incident. But he noted that initially he saw no reason to put Silva Filho on administrative leave. The Public Ministry of the Federal District took a less sanguine view of the incident, with Mauro Faria Lima, a public prosecutor, saying that it was opening its own investigation of the event by interviewing the injured protesters and the policemen involved.

Lima said the military police’s actions against the protesters were “bestial”. “A protester that had fallen down was surrounded by policemen mounted on horses. The policemen threw their horses against the protester. These were shocking scenes, unworthy of a civilized country,” the prosecutor said according to O Globo newspaper.

“We want Arruda to resign as governor now, in December,” one student protester told Globo television last night in an interview. “We’re not willing to wait until next year. We are going to keep protesting every day until he leaves.”

There are six impeachment requests currently being evaluated by the Legislative Council of the Federal District, which has 24 elected representatives. But analysts have noted that Arruda has enough allies on the council to have all impeachment requests turned down.