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Brazil's President Michel Temer reacts during breakfast with journalists at the Alvorada Palace in Brasilia, Brazil December 22, 2017. REUTERS/Adriano Machado

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By Jake Spring

FLORIANOPOLIS, Brazil (Reuters) - The president of Brazil's Supreme Court suspended parts of a Christmas decree from President Michel Temer granting pardons to convicted criminals on Thursday, saying Temer's actions needed further examination by the court.

Brazil's top prosecutor, Raquel Dodge, had launched a legal challenge to the pardons on Wednesday, saying they were unconstitutional and threatened a probe into the country's largest-ever corruption scandal.

The pardons traditionally granted by the Brazilian president around Christmas are applied to criminals meeting certain conditions, including having already served part of their sentence.

But Temer drew sharp criticism from public prosecutors and on social media with his Dec. 21 decree that made the rules more generous and extended them to include people convicted of corruption-related crimes.

Prosecutor-General Dodge said in a statement late on Wednesday that she was requesting an injunction to stop parts of the decree from going into effect. She said the pardons undermined the separation of powers and would grant impunity to those guilty of graft.

In her decision on Thursday, Cármen Lúcia, the president of the Supreme Court, ruled largely in favour of the prosecutor.

A nearly four-year corruption investigation in Brazil known as Operation Car Wash has resulted in dozens of powerful businessmen and politicians being jailed for political kickbacks, usually involving private enterprises paying billions of dollars in bribes to win contracts with state-run companies.

Temer's decree ordered that, with some caveats, non-violent, first-time offenders who have already served one-fifth of their sentence are eligible for pardon, compared to one-quarter previously. The decree also eliminated prior terms that barred prisoners with sentences longer than 12 years from being pardoned.

There was no immediate comment from Temer's office on the court's ruling.

Justice Minister Torquato Jardim wrote in an article published in O Globo newspaper on Thursday before the ruling that Temer was acting within constitutional norms that allow for pardons to be granted as acts of mercy.

The decree was aimed at pardoning criminals like the more than 70,000 people jailed for theft and not the 50 or so imprisoned for corruption, only one of whom is thought be eligible for pardon under the decree, he wrote.

(Reporting by Jake Spring in Florianopolis, Brazil; Additional writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Frances Kerry)

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