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Brazilians call for impeachment

BRASILIA (Reuter) - Hundreds of Brazilians invaded their Congress yesterday, roaring with approval as a formal request was presented for President Fernando Collor de Mello to be thrown out of office for allegedly lying and stealing.

The heads of Brazil's Bar Association and Press Association struggled through a chanting mass in the Congress building and handed a petition for President Collor's removal to Ibsen Pinheiro, head of the lower house. 'What is on trial here is not just the President of the republic but the honour and dignity of the Brazilian people,' said the Bar Association's president.

The Bar and Press Association presidents were chosen to present the request by a broad coalition of civic groups outraged by allegations that Mr Collor had pocketed millions from corruption. The petition demanded that Mr Collor be judged and punished with 'the loss of his job and barring from public office for eight years, without prejudice to any criminal proceedings.' The President has denied all the charges against him and vowed to fight to the end against any attempt to remove him from office.

Tempers flared in the intense heat of the Congress auditorium and photographers punched and kicked each other as they fought to film the historic event. The speakers, who included the 95-year-old president of the Brazilian Press Association, Barbosa Lima Sobrinho, frequently had to break off and appeal for calm. Mr Pinheiro, accepting the petition, vowed that the Chamber of Deputies - the lower house - would do its duty. 'Congress will not be intimidated,' he thundered.

Leaders of the main opposition parties, union bosses and politicians applauded. The tumultuous session finished with a hearty rendition of the Brazilian national anthem. Mr Pinheiro is to study the impeachment request and hoped to decide on whether or not to accept it this week. The chamber will then set up a committee with up to 10 days to look at the petition. If the committee recommends that it should go forward, the lower house will vote on the committee's recommendation.

The Liberal Front Party, President Collor's main basis of support in Congress, said it would allow its 88 MPs to vote according to their consciences on the move to impeach the President.