Brazil’s President Dilma Rousseff has suffered a blow to her hopes of staving off impeachment proceedings, after a committee voted they should go ahead.
The 65-member congressional committee voted 38 to 27 to recommend impeachment over claims she manipulated government accounts to hide a growing deficit.
All eyes will now be on a full vote in the lower house on April 17 or 18.
The issue has divided Brazil, with police preparing for mass protests in the capital, Brasilia.
The vote took place amid chaotic scenes with supporters and opponents of President Rousseff shouting slogans and waving placards.
The committee’s vote is largely symbolic, but has been watched as a measure of how much support there is for the impeachment process ahead of the crucial vote in the full lower house of Congress.
There, a two-thirds majority is needed to send the matter on to the Senate.
A report says the latest opinion poll suggests that 292 of the 513 members are in favour, with 115 against and 106 undecided.
The Senate would then have the power to suspend Ms Rousseff, put her on trial and ultimately drive her from office.
President Rousseff’s popularity has dived in recent months.
She has been hit by a faltering economy and a damaging corruption scandal focused on the state-controlled oil giant Petrobras, which has implicated several senior politicians and business leaders.
Although opinion polls regularly indicate that a majority of Brazilians support the impeachment process, President Rousseff and her supporters in the ruling Workers Party say the proceedings in Congress amount to a parliamentary coup.
They point out that, unlike many of the Congressmen sitting in judgment against her, Ms Rousseff has not been formally accused in the Petrobras scandal but is being “tried” on lesser charges of manipulating government accounts to conceal a growing deficit.
During a bad-tempered debate leading up to the vote, Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cordozo, speaking for the president, said the impeachment process was “flawed”.
“It is absurd to dismiss a president who has not committed crimes, nor stolen a penny. And such a process without crime or fraud, would be a coup,” he said.
Opposition lawmaker, Vanderlei Macris said an impeachment would be important to Brazilian society and would bring change.
On Monday night, thousands of supporters of President Rousseff attended anti-impeachment rallies in Rio de Janeiro.
Speaking at one event, former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva dismissed the vote by the congressional committee, calling it “unimportant”.
If the matter does go to the Senate and Ms Rousseff is suspended, Vice-President Michel Temer, from the opposition PMDB party, would take over temporarily.
But in another twist, Brazilian media ran an audio tape on Monday that appeared to be a draft address he planned to give, accepting the post and calling for national unity.
“Many people sought me out so that I would give at least preliminary remarks to the Brazilian nation, which I am doing with modesty, caution and moderation,” he says on the recording.
His office said it was sent to aides erroneously.
A report also said given the fact that Mr Temer may also face impeachment proceedings, it appeared somewhat premature.
If Mr Temer is also suspended from office, the next in line to assume the presidency is the Speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha.
However, he is facing money-laundering and other charges stemming from the Petrobras scandal.
‘Next action plan’
Lower house vote: An impeachment vote is expected in the lower house in the next few days. A two-thirds majority is required for it to go forward. Latest surveys suggest the number in favour is short of the total needed to carry the motion.
Senate vote on trial: If Ms Rousseff case is sent to the Senate, a simple majority is enough to suspend her for up to 180 days while she is put on trial. Vice-President Michel Temer would step in during this period.
Impeachment vote: For Ms Rousseff to be removed from office permanently, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote in favour. Mr Temer would remain president for an interim period should this happen.