Brazil's President Resigns as Trial Opens

FACING almost certain conviction, suspended Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello resigned minutes after the opening of his Senate impeachment trial Dec. 29.

"The defense awaits calmly your acceptance of this resignation [to] put an end to the impeachment process of President Fernando Collor," said Jose Moura Rocha, Mr. Collor's defense attorney, who read the resignation announcement.

The 43-year-old Collor - a former governor of the small northeastern state of Alagoas who took the helm of Latin America's largest nation in March 1990 promising to end corruption - was charged with making millions from a government influence-peddling scheme.

He was suspended by the lower house of Congress Sept. 29 after an 84-day investigation into the corruption charges.

By resigning, Collor - who had vowed to fight the charges to the end - may have avoided a whole host of penalties that would have gone along with impeachment, including exclusion from holding public office for eight years and loss of privileges enjoyed by former presidents like secret service protection and use of a diplomatic passport.

But the resignation strips Collor of presidential immunity, and he now faces prosecution for corruption and criminal association, which carry a maximum penalty of eight years.

Congressional leaders immediately called a special session of both houses of Congress to review the situation as Collor's opponents called for the impeachment proceeding to continue, despite the resignation. At the session, the presidency was declared vacant and Senate President Mauro Benevides asked Acting President Itamar Franco to be sworn in.

Mr. Franco, who took over the presidency in October after Collor was suspended, will serve the two years remaining in Collor's term.

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