The impeachment of Brazil’s embattled president Dilma Rousseff came a step closer when a congressional committee voted to continue the process.
She faces impeachment proceedings over allegations her administration violated fiscal rules to mask budget problems.
Her opponents say the process is in line with the wishes of the majority of Brazilians, while Ms Rousseff’s supporters call it a blatant power grab by her enemies. The special congressional commission voted 38-27 to recommend the continuation of the impeachment process - comfortably more than the 33 votes needed. The panel’s session lasted all day and was marked by a prolonged shouting match before the vote.
There will now be a vote in the full lower house on whether to send the matter to the Senate for a possible trial.
With 342 votes in the 513-member Chamber of Deputies needed for the process to continue, analysts say the outcome is too close to call.
Brazil’s biggest party, the Brazilian Democratic Movement Party, pulled out of Ms Rousseff’s governing coalition late last month, forcing the government to scramble to secure the support of smaller parties to help block the impeachment process.
If the impeachment measure passes in the Chamber of Deputies, it goes to the Senate, which would decide whether to open a trial. If that happened, Ms Rousseff would be suspended from office for up to 180 days during a trial.
In another twist in the months-long saga, a newspaper released the audio of a speech by vice president Michel Temer, who would take over if Ms Rousseff were suspended. It appears to be a draft of an address that Mr Temer would make to the Brazilian people if the impeachment process were to move forward following a vote in the Chamber of Deputies.
Brazil’s political affairs minister and Rousseff ally, Ricardo Berzoini, said the impeachment effort amounts to a coup and pointed to Mr Temer as the driving force behind the attempt.
Thousands of Rousseff supporters turned out for anti-impeachment events in Rio de Janeiro, including musicians and other stars.
Former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Ms Rousseff’s mentor and predecessor, lashed out at Mr Temer, telling the crowd the recording had exposed the vice president’s desire to oust her.
He dismissed the vote by the congressional panel, calling it unimportant and saying the real test will come with the vote in the full Chamber of Deputies.
A Supreme Court justice last week ruled that the speaker of the lower house in Congress must open impeachment proceedings against Mr Temer, who faces the same allegations of breaking fiscal rules as Ms Rousseff.
If Mr Temer also was suspended from office, house Speaker Eduardo Cunha would be in line to assume the presidency. But he is facing money laundering and other charges stemming from a corruption scandal at the state-run Petrobras oil company.
The continuing investigation into the far-reaching scheme has shaken Brazil over the past two years, with top politicians and some of the country’s richest and most powerful businessmen detained, charged and convicted.
A poll at the weekend suggested that while support for Ms Rousseff’s impeachment remains high, it has decreased in recent weeks.