A Brazilian congressional committee has voted in favour of impeaching President Dilma Rousseff in a major setback to the embattled government. The move by the congressional lawmakers has set the stage for a vital vote in the lower house in the coming days, raising political tensions in the country.
Following a heated and chaotic debate, the 65-member panel voted 38 to 27 to recommend the impeachment of the embattled leader. A vote in Brazil's Chamber of Deputies, the lower house, is expected to take place either on 17 or 18 April. If two-thirds of the lower house recommends Rousseff's prosecution, the issue will then be taken up by the Senate leading to her trial.
Though the committee's vote is not binding, it is a symbolic blow for Rousseff, 68, who is accused of massaging accounts to hide the dire state of the government budget during her 2014 re-election. Critics also blame her for the economic crisis and for a corruption scandal involving state-controlled oil company Petrobras that is also engulfing her predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.
Both sides shouted slogans against each other during the bad-tempered debate in the assembly. In his closing remarks, Opposition leader Paulo Abi-Ackel yelled that Rousseff was "inept, incapable, isolated", which was rejected by the president's supporters.
Attorney General Jose Eduardo Cardozo said: "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."
According to a poll released by Brazilian daily Estadao, 298 deputies out of 513 in the lower house are in favour of Rousseff's impeachment. However, the number is still short of the required 342 in order to carry the motion to the Senate.
Hundreds of thousands of both pro and anti-Rousseff campaigners are expected to convene outside Congress in the run-up to the lower house voting. Protesters have already gathered outside the building as troops are expected to be deployed in the next few days.
Latin America's biggest country has been gripped by an intense political drama over the last few weeks with tensions flaring up over massive corruption allegations.