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 17 or 18 April.
The issue has divided Brazil, with police preparing for mass protests in the capital, Brasilia.
The committee’s vote, while largely symbolic, was being 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, 342 votes in favour are needed to send the matter on to the Senate. The latest opinion poll by the Estadao daily suggests 292 are in favour, 115 against and 106 undecided.
President Rousseff, whose popularity has dived in recent months, 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 against a democratically elected government.
They point out that, unlike many of the Congressmen sitting in judgment against her, Ms Rousseff has not been formally accused in the Petrobras corruption probe 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, a simple majority there would suffice to send the impeachment forward.
If that happens, Ms Rousseff would be suspended for 180 days while the impeachment trial continues in the Senate.
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.
The BBC’s Wyre Davies in Brazil says that, given the fact that Mr Temer may also face impeachment proceedings, it appeared somewhat premature.
For Ms Rousseff to be removed from office permanently, two-thirds of the Senate would have to vote in favour.
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.