11 Jan 2009

Accused US governor impeached

7:10 am on 11 January 2009

The Illinois House of Representatives has impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich for abuse of power, including a charge that he tried to sell President-elect Barack Obama's former US Senate seat.

Mr Blagojevich dismissed the impeachment, the first ever of an Illinois governor, blaming it on long-standing conflicts with House lawmakers. He repeated he had committed no wrongdoing.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 114-1 to impeach the two-term Democrat.

The vote clears the way for a trial in the state Senate, where conviction by more than two-thirds of its members would result in his removal from office.

Rep. Barbara Currie, a Chicago Democrat who headed the inquiry committee that recommended impeachment, told the House that Blagojevich had betrayed the public trust, and was not fit to govern.

A trial in the state Democratic-controlled Senate could begin on 26 January.

The charges against the 52-year-old governor cited a wide range of abuses involving political favors, including charges brought by federal prosecutors that he tried to sell Mr Obama's vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder.

He has rejected demands for his resignation, and prosecutors have not yet produced an indictment.

Only a handful of governors have been impeached in US history. The last was Arizona Republican Evan Mecham in 1988, who was convicted by the state Senate and removed from office.

Mr Blagojevich last month defied Barack Obama and US Senate leaders by appointing former Illinois attorney general Roland Burris to the the vacant Senate seat.

Senate leaders at first rejected Mr Burris, but with the blessing of Mr Obama, began negotiations this week to seat him.

The Illinois Supreme Court ruled on Friday the appointment was valid, although it ruled against Mr Burris' motion to require a state official to certify it.