Rousseff's gone but her portraits remain -- or do they?

When suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff cleared her desk and said goodbye to staff a traumatic power shift was complete, except for one niggling issue: What to do with all the Rousseff portraits on presidential palace walls? (AFP Photo/Vanderlei Almeida) (AFP)

Brasília (AFP) - When suspended Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff cleared her desk, said goodbye to staff and surrendered her office to her bitter enemy Michel Temer, Brazil's traumatic power shift was complete.

Except for one niggling issue: What to do with all the Rousseff portraits on presidential palace walls?

On Friday, 24 hours after Rousseff's exit from the Palacio do Planalto in Brasilia, the initial answer seemed to be to take them all down.

An AFP correspondent saw a maintenance man struggling to remove a particularly large portrait of Rousseff, Brazil's first female president, from the communications department early in the morning.

Folha newspaper's website published a picture of smaller portraits -- featuring a smiling Rousseff in her presidential sash -- stacked on a desk.

But by midday Temer's new government -- already dealing with accusations of illegitimacy, not to mention responsibility for tackling Brazil's huge economic problems -- reassured the public.

Rousseff, after all, has only been suspended for six months pending judgement in her impeachment trial on charges of breaking government accounting laws.

That means Temer, who had been her vice president, automatically gets full presidential powers but can't call the job his to keep unless she is completely removed.

As rumors of the portrait drama spread, his chief of staff Eliseu Padilha told a press conference that Temer himself had intervened.

"Portraits of president (Rousseff) must not be changed in any public administration building," Padilha said in the Planalto room where just one day earlier Rousseff had said her goodbyes.

Temer "understands that for now his government is temporary."

- 'Coup plotter' -

The issue was sensitive because Rousseff has repeatedly called Temer a coup plotter who engineered impeachment on false charges to seize power half way through her second term. Forcing her from office for a trial in the Senate was one thing, but pulling her picture, as if already deciding that she'd never come back, was another.

After the government's statement on leaving the Rousseff portraits, officials insisted they'd never had any other intention.

"It's not true they were being taken down," said Fabio Rocha Frederico in the communications department. "Look in there," he said, pointing to a small picture of the departed president on the wall.

But down in the bowels of the Planalto building, where offices line the corridors, confusion persisted.

"What we've heard is that someone could come to collect them, but that they'll be put in a safe place until it's known if she's coming back," said one government worker, who like others in his office spoke on condition of anonymity.

"My guess is it will stay up there for one or two days more. They'll take it away on Monday," a colleague added.

"I don't know," said a third worker, expressing her sadness at Rousseff's departure and distaste for Temer. "For me the portrait should stay there -- right until 2018 when she finishes her mandate."