BRASILIA - Brazil's lower house of parliament yesterday overwhelmingly voted to impeach President Fernando Collor de Mello on corruption charges, stripping him of power for six months. The move will almost certainly end the rule of the country's first directly elected president in three decades.
The four-month-old scandal, which erupted when Mr Collor's brother accused him of lining his pockets with millions of dollars from a government corruption scheme, has all but paralysed the government and unnerved financial markets. The Vice-President, Itamar Franco, a 61-year-old electrical engineer with 30 years of experience in Brazilian politics, will become the interim president.
Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, jamming nearly every big city in Brazil and listening to the vote by radio, roared their approval as Paulo Romano, a deputy, cast the 336th vote and put the impeachment bill over the top. Millions of people watched the vote on live television across this vast country, Latin America's most populous nation and its economic powerhouse.
With the vote standing at 361 to 28, the roll-call continued in the 503-member lower house of Congress. Mr Collor's support collapsed at the last moment and the margin of victory exceeded the most optimistic expectations of his opponents. The President did not watch the vote, a spokesman said.
The lower house leadership will inform Mr Collor of the results and the case will be turned over to the Senate, where he will be judged on charges that he took millions from a money-for-favours racket run by his former aides. After a series of legal formalities that could last a day or two, Mr Collor will be informed that he has been removed from office for six months while the Senate tries him, Brazilian constitutional experts have said.
The vote - and especially the huge margin - raised the pressure on Mr Collor to resign and avoid the Senate trial. The President has, so far, vowed never to resign and has called the impeachment drive the work of power- hungry politicians. Public opinion has turned strongly hostile towards Mr Collor during the scandal, in which the President, through a web of phantom bank accounts, allegedly received millions of dollars from his former campaign treasurer, Paulo Cesar Farias.
Hundreds of thousands of people took part in anti-Collor rallies across the country, listening to the vote on radio and screaming their approval with every 'yes' vote. About 100,000 people massed outside the ultra-modern Congress building in Brasilia to demand impeachment, many with their faces painted with the green and yellow colours of the Brazilian flag and shouting anti-Collor slogans. A cacophony of car horns was heard all around the city as the decisive vote began.
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