[BRASÍLIA] Brazil's Senate met on Monday to form a committee that will consider whether to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, who has accused her opponents of mounting a constitutional coup.
Ms Rousseff's case was sent to the Senate by the lower house after an overwhelming vote against Rousseff on April 17. She is accused of illegal government accounting maneuvers, but says she has not committed an impeachment-worthy crime.
The Senate committee - comprising 21 of the 81 senators - was to debate Ms Rousseff's fate for up to 10 working days before making a recommendation to the full upper house.
The Senate then votes - on May 12, according to latest Brazilian media estimates - whether to open an impeachment trial, with a simple majority required.
At that moment, Mr Rousseff would be suspended for 180 days while the trial got underway. Her vice president turned leading political opponent, Michel Temer, would take over.
To remove Ms Rousseff definitively from office at the end of the trial, the Senate would have to vote with a two-thirds majority. If Ms Rousseff is in fact removed from office, Mr Temer would retain the presidency until scheduled elections in 2018.
Ms Rousseff has accused Mr Temer of being the main "conspirator" and "traitor" in a plot to use the impeachment process to force her out.
Ms Rousseff's predecessor in the presidency and chief political backer, Luiz Ignacio Lula da Silva, on Monday said that the opposition's ultimate goal was to bring down the ruling leftist Workers' Party, which has held the presidency since 2003.
"Eliminating Dilma means they can say that the Workers' Party will not come back to govern this country. That's what's at play here," he said in Sao Paulo.
"There will be a strong fight. You will see that we will have a lot of democratic resistance," he said.
According to a head count by the respected Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper, 50 of the 81 senators currently support opening impeachment proceedings, clearing the required minimum.
However, Mr Folha said that only 39 openly support going through with forcing Ms Rousseff out - well short of the 54 required.