Austere deputy takes over from Collor

BRASILIA (AP, Reuter) - Congress yesterday began the formal process of suspending President Fernando Collor de Mello from office after voting on Tuesday to impeach him.

But the President will not resign, his spokesman said yesterday after the vote. Asked whether Mr Collor might step down, his spokesman, Etevaldo Dias, said: 'No. That is a word (resignation) that has not been spoken by the President.' Mr Collor will be officially removed from office for six months from today when the Senate formally informs him of the vote.

About 100,000 people celebrated into early morning yesterday after the lower house of Congress voted overwhelmingly to impeach Mr Collor on charges he accepted illicit contributions while in office. The Senate is to try him on charges that he received the equivalent of dollars 6.5m (pounds 3.6m) in 'undue benefits' from a slush fund operated by his former campaign treasurer. If convicted, Mr Collor will be permanently removed from office.

The Senate yesterday started procedures to install in Mr Collor's place the Vice-President, Itamar Franco, an austere, little- known politician who has been untouched by the corruption scandal. Yesterday Mr Franco met candidates for his cabinet.

A discreet, reserved man with flowing white hair and glasses, Mr Franco, 61, has been working his way up in politics for 30 years. But his views on many key issues are still a mystery to Brazilians. As recently as a month ago, opinion polls showed that more than half of all Brazilians did not even know who he was.

What is known about Mr Franco suggests a man who stands in contrast to current trends of Brazilian politics in many ways. He has been an advocate of a strong role for government in the economy at a time when free-market thinking dominates Brazil and the rest of Latin America.

While every other important politician has been forced to choose sides on the impeachment drive, Mr Franco has steered a neutral course and only recently disclosed the growing animosity between him and Mr Collor. Publicly, he has been careful not to be seen to be eager for the President's demise.

Foreign investors and bankers are wary of him, but Mr Franco has taken pains to show that his thinking has changed and that he accepts economic liberalisation in principle. 'The world has changed, and I have changed with it,' he said recently. He believes in maintaining Mr Collor's privatisation programme, although with some changes, according to economists who have worked with him.

'There are a lot of people in banking and business who feel that the cost of Mr Collor's (economic) policies has been too high, and that maybe Franco could do it better,' said a foreign banker in Sao Paulo.

The scandal leading up to Tuesday's vote paralysed the economy and brought weeks of huge demonstrations calling for Mr Collor to be ousted. His removal gives the country of 150 million - Latin America's largest - the opportunity to restart its economy, which is burdened by the highest foreign debt in the Third World.

The Justice Minister, Celio Borja, said Mr Collor received the news of the vote 'with great dignity' and would abide by the Chamber of Deputies' decision. The Senate has up to six months to try him. The Senate president was to name a 21-member commission yesterday that will call witnesses and review documents before the Senate votes on whether to remove Mr Collor permanently, which would need a two-thirds majority.