Collor ministers to resign before impeachment vote

BRASILIA (AFP) - President Fernando Collor de Mello's government began to crumble yesterday as key cabinet members announced they would resign prior to the Chamber of Deputies vote on impeaching the President.

Brazil's Justice Minister, Celio Borja, said he would resign the day before the vote, which is expected next Wednesday. The Economy Minister, Marcilio Marques Moreira, said he would quit the day of the vote or the day before, and the Foreign Minister, Celso Lafer, said he would resign prior to the vote.

Earlier, the President's main ally in Congress, the deputy Roberto Jefferson, promised 'obstruction tactics' to block the vote that could remove the scandal-ridden President from power after he took a stinging defeat in court.

Struggling to stay in office and facing a hostile public, Mr Collor's last chance against impeachment appeared to rest with a flurry of procedural manoeuvres in Congress aimed at wearing down his accusers. However, pro-impeachment forces expressed confidence that the crucial vote would go ahead and that Mr Collor would be unseated.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected the President's requests for a secret impeachment vote in the Chamber of Deputies and for more time to answer charges of corruption. The rulings dealt a blow to supporters of Mr Collor, who had hoped that a secret vote would allow deputies to speak out publicly against the unpopular president, but vote privately to keep him in office.

Mr Collor is accused of receiving dollars 6.5m ( pounds 3.8m) in illegal payments from an influence-peddling scheme by his campaign treasurer, Paulo Cesar Farias, who Congress found took kickbacks from businesses that secured government contracts.

The charges against Mr Collor are contained in a public report. An opposition deputy, Nelson Jobim, a member of the special impeachment committee, said on Tuesday that his report would support impeachment. It was to be presented to the committee for a vote yesterday. If, as expected, a majority of the committee approves the report, the next step would be a vote on impeachment before the Chamber of Deputies.

A two-thirds majority in the chamber, or 336 votes, would be needed to adopt the impeachment measure. Opposition deputies claim to have 360 pro-impeachment votes. If the lower house votes for impeachment, the President would be suspended for 180 days and Vice-President Itamar Franco would serve as acting president while Mr Collor's trial was conducted in the Senate.

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