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Brazil Court Clears Way For Impeachment Vote

Beseiged Brazilian president's fight to hold his office prompts public talk of `extra-constitutional' solutions

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HAVING lost a last-ditch battle in the country's Supreme Court Wednesday, Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello now faces an impeachment vote in Congress as early as next Tuesday.

Mr. Collor, however, has not given up the fight and still hopes to overcome allegations of involvement in a $330 million influence-peddling scandal. But with public opinion overwhelmingly against him, some now fear that a failure to impeach the president will unleash a backlash and unravel Brazil's careful attempts handle the crisis in a democratic and constitutional fashion.

For the first time, some political analysts even talk of a coup to push the president from office.

"Most agree that this can't go on. Now the most likely outcome is that the military will demand his resignation and install the vice president," says Walder de Goes, a prominent Brasilia-based political-risk analyst.

Until this week, military involvement was almost universally discounted. In the past, the military was often courted to resolve political deadlocks. But since the end of the 1964-1985 military dictatorship, all elements of society have resisted any role for the generals.

The armed forces themselves have repeatedly stated their desire to remain aloof from politics. But with pro-impeachment street protests growing - 500,000 rallied in Sao Paulo Sept. 18 - riots and civil unrest are feared if Collor stays. Several major labor unions are calling for a national strike on the day of the vote and the military, despite its reluctance to get involved in politics, still has a constitutional responsibility to maintain public order.

The Supreme Court's decision involved the nature and timing of the impeachment vote. Collor had hoped for a secret ballot, allowing supporters to back him without fear of a public backlash. Many in Congress are running for municipal office in elections scheduled for Oct. 3. The court ended that hope and Collor's attempt to delay the vote.

The main concern over the outcome rests with Collor's attempts to "buy support," Mr. De Goes says. In recent weeks, the president has promised "prestige" to those who support him. Congress, which implicated Collor in corruption in late August, is now investigating a sudden, dramatic rise in money dolled out by a government-owned bank.

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