SAO PAULO, Brazil - More than 700,000 people ignored heavy rain yesterday to join the biggest rally to date demanding the impeachment of President Fernando Collor de Mello.
The crowd, amid a sea of Brazilian flags and protest banners that stretched for dozens of blocks, danced and sang, "Impeachment When? Now!"
As Collor, accused of taking at least $6.5 million in illegal payments from an aide, prepared his impeachment defense, new charges surfaced linking the aide to drug smugglers.
In Rio de Janeiro, protesters jeered and threw money at Collor when he arrived Thursday night at a clinic to visit his mother, who was hospitalized after suffering a heart attack.
Collor's brother Pedro - who sparked the scandal in May by charging his brother with corruption - also was at the hospital. The two avoided each other, according to Collor's aides.
Federal police said an Argentine drug trafficker had testified he smuggled cocaine for Paulo Cesar Farias, Collor's 1989 campaign treasurer, who also faces charges of corruption, tax evasion, influence peddling and money laundering.
Federal police interrogated Luis Mario Nunez for seven hours last Saturday, police spokesman Paulo Marra said in Brasilia, the capital.
Nunez told the magazine Isto E that he flew hundreds of pounds of cocaine and raw coca paste into Brazil in early 1990. According to excerpts published yesterday in major newspapers, Nunez said he worked for Farias, his brother Luiz Romero Farias, and Jorge Bandeira de Mello. The latter, no relation to President Collor, was Farias' partner in an air-taxi company.
The drug flights were made to towns along Brazil's western jungle border with Colombia and Bolivia, as well as to Alagoas, the northeastern home state of Collor and Farias, according to Nunez.
"Everything was easier because the man was a friend of the authorities in Brasilia," he was quoted as saying.
Farias denied the charges and said he never met Nunez.
The accusations could add to a wave of public indignation with Collor, who took office in 1990 as Brazil's first freely elected leader after two decades of military rule.
Collor, 43, denies any wrongdoing and says he will serve out his term, which ends in 1995.
Congress is to vote this month on whether to open impeachment proceedings. Most Legislators say they can muster the necessary two-thirds majority of the 503-seat Chamber of Deputies.