Power stripped from Collor

BRASILIA (Reuter) - Vice-President Itamar Franco of Brazil will take over power today from the disgraced President, Fernando Collor de Mello, and not on Monday as planned, the Senate said. The announcement yesterday by Dirceu Carneiro, the Senate secretary, meant that Brazil's legal limbo - with Mr Collor still in charge after Congress voted to strip him of power - would soon end with Mr Franco taking over as acting president.

Mr Franco worked feverishly yesterday to put together a 'government of national unity' just hours before he was due to take over, and he warned Mr Collor not to interfere. With Latin America's biggest country soon to have two presidents - one in charge, the other powerless - Mr Franco met potential cabinet ministers in marathon sessions at his basement office in Brasilia's presidential palace, spokesmen said.

After three days of confusion over exactly when Mr Franco would take over as acting president, the Senate finally fixed the changover for 10am today. Mr Carneiro, a centre-left senator, will officially inform Mr Collor that he has been stripped of power to face an impeachment trial in the upper house of parliament. Mr Carneiro spoke after a meeting between the Senate leadership, Mr Franco and other top officials. 'I will then immediately tell Franco that he is president,' Mr Carneiro said. Under Brazilian law, there will be no formal swearing-in ceremony.

The lower house voted on Tuesday to suspend Mr Collor from office for six months and try him in the Senate on charges that he raked in proceeds from a money-for-favours scheme run by some of his former aides. The vote, greeted by wild street celebrations across the country, was a crushing blow to Mr Collor.

Mr Franco, 61, who has 30 years experience in Brazilian politics, planned a coalition government with top appointments to be distributed among mainly centre and centre-left parties, his associates said. In contrast to Mr Collor, whose hostility towards Congress early in his term helped bring his downfall, Mr Franco plans close co-operation with the legislature. 'He is working with parliamentarians so they will stay very close to the government, to win a support base in Congress,' said Henrique Hargreaves, a close aide, in the newspaper O Globo.

'It must be a government of national unity,' Mr Franco said. His supporters have said only a coalition government could hope to heal the wounds left over from months of political upheaval in Brazil, the economic powerhouse of Latin America.