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Brazilians Formally Submit Request to Impeach President

By William R. Long
Los Angeles Times

BRASILIA, Brazil

A formal request for impeachment, submitted by Brazil's press and bar associations in a tumultuous ceremony Tuesday, started the legal process that could suspend President Fernando Collor de Mello from office by the end of the month and eventually lead to his ouster.

In a packed congressional hall, just across the street from the presidential palace, the president of the bar association read proposed articles of impeachment accusing Collor of dishonestly receiving illicit funds.

Ibsen Pinheiro, chairman of the lower house of Congress, accepted the request and told reporters later that he hoped to bring the matter to a final vote in the house by the end of the month. If it passes by a two-thirds majority, Collor would become the first president of Latin America's biggest country to be impeached.

He would then be suspended for 180 days and tried by the Senate. If found guilty by the Senate, he would be ousted from the presidency.

Informal polls of the lower house this week indicate that a two-thirds majority now favors impeachment. Collor's support in the Senate also is dwindling. Marco Maciel, the government leader in the Senate, announced his resignation from that position Tuesday morning.

In the afternoon, leaders of the Order of Brazilian Lawyers marched from their headquarters to the Congress building, followed by a throng of anti-Collor demonstrators. They all crowded into the front hall of the building for the scheduled presentation of the impeachment request. The ceremony was interrupted by shouting and scuffling as hundreds of people pressed against one another in the sweltering hall.

Marcello Lavenere Machado, chairman of the association, said the impeachment request was being made "in the name of all citizens of the nation."

The document says that the president and his relatives "received large quantities of money, as well as other goods, with no indication of the illicit origin of those advantages." It adds that the money "came from a criminal organization for exploiting prestige and trafficking in influence, controlled by Paulo Cesar Cavalcante Farias."

Farias is a businessman and Collor's former campaign fund-raiser. A report issued last week by a congressional investigative committee accused Farias of using collecting millions of dollars in bribes from companies doing business with the government.

The report was delivered Tuesday to the attorney general's office, which is reported to be preparing criminal charges against Collor.

Collor has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and has vowed that he will not resign.

"I'm not a man for resigning," he said in a television interview broadcast late Monday. "I'm not a man for running away from a fight."

Collor said that he erred by trusting people he should not have trusted, including Farias.

Pinheiro, the chairman of the lower house, told reporters that the commission will have 10 days to study the impeachment request. Then Collor will have 20 days to respond before a final vote of the full house.

If Collor's allies and opponents cooperate to streamline the process, it could be shortened to less than a month, Pinheiro said. If they do not, "it will be a painful process and probably will take longer," he said.