Page last updated at 02:24 GMT, Friday, 19 February 2010

Bolivian President Evo Morales appoints 18 top judges

By Will Grant
BBC, La Paz

Bolivian President Evo Morales (file pic)
Evo Morales had not been to the Supreme Court since 2007

Bolivian President Evo Morales has appointed 18 top judges, including Supreme Court justices, ahead of December judicial elections.

The temporary measure has prompted accusations from his opponents that the independence of the justice system is being threatened.

Mr Morales denies any such attack, saying the justices are independent and not known to him personally.

Mr Morales has had a bad relationship with the judiciary.

The move comes after the president was granted special powers to appoint and remove judges from the Bolivian parliament.

The appointment of the judges and high-ranking judicial officials by President Morales marks a significant change to the Bolivian justice system.

"This is the start of the decolonisation of the judiciary," Mr Morales said during the event, in which he spoke of a "very dark" justice system in Bolivia.

This was only the second time that President Morales has entered the Supreme Court since January 2007, so bad has the relationship with the chief justices become.

However, this time he arrived to appoint the vast majority of the top positions himself.

Judicial corruption

Opponents of the government have called it a dark day for Bolivia and have compared Mr Morales to the former Peruvian leader, Alberto Fujimori, who took over total control of the judiciary and the apparatus of the Peruvian state in the 1990s.

Mr Morales denies such an attack on the divisions of power in Bolivia.

In a recent constitutional referendum it was decided that supreme court justices, among others, should be appointed by national vote after the president accused the judiciary of systemic corruption and inefficiency.

Over the past few years of Mr Morales' rule numerous judges have either resigned, amid accusations of pressure from the president, or retired.

Almost 20 of a total of 26 top judicial positions are currently vacant until the election on their appointment can be held in December.

Having been granted special powers by the national assembly, President Morales has now appointed them by hand.

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