Senate judges Collor guilty of misconduct

BRASILIA - Fernando Collor de Mello was convicted of misconduct early yesterday, hours after he resigned as president. Stripped of immunity, he now faces a criminal trial that could end with an eight-year prison sentence.

His successor, Itamar Franco, is confronted with the challenge of pulling Latin America's largest country out of its worst economic crisis in decades. He promised yesterday to improve life for the poor and not to implement economic 'shock' measures, such as wage and price freezes, to curb inflation, as his predecessor had done.

'We'll never resolve Brazil's social questions until all of us can look into the eyes of all Brazilians, old and young, from the city and the countryside, and see them as we see our own children, parents and brothers,' Mr Franco said in his televised speech. He did not offer any specifics about how he would help the poor. But during his three months as acting president he promised to double the minimum wage, increase benefits for pensioners and restore a free milk programme for the poor which had been cut by Mr Collor.

Mr Franco, 62, was sworn in on Tuesday, a few hours after Mr Collor resigned 20 minutes into his Senate trial for corruption. Undeterred by Mr Collor's retreat, the Senate convicted him of official misconduct, barring him from holding office for eight years.

Mr Collor, 43, now can be tried for corruption and criminal association, which carries a maximum prison term of eight years. The Attorney-General, Aristides Junqueira, filed criminal charges against him on 12 November.

Congressman Maurilio Fereira Lima said the resignation 'consummated the exit of a crook who came to the presidency fooling everyone. Now it is essential to prevent his leaving the country, and that all the (criminal) processes he is involved in move forward.'

In his first public comments since his resignation, Mr Collor told reporters yesterday that a 'kangaroo court' had 'restricted my right of defence. I will continue struggling to prevent them (his foes) from using power in a spurious manner, to maintain intact and at their service institutions . . . used to perpetuate their own interests.'

Mr Collor said he had asked his lawyers to appeal to the Supreme Court against the Senate decision.