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Last Updated: Thursday, 9 December, 2004, 14:33 GMT
Ecuador dismisses Supreme Court
President Lucio Gutierrez
Gutierrez said the Supreme Court was too close to the opposition
Ecuador's Congress has voted to dismiss the entire 31-member Supreme Court in a controversial decision bitterly contested by the opposition.

The move came in a session called by President Lucio Gutierrez, who said the court had become too politicised.

He said the appointment of new judges would make the country's highest court fairer and more representative.

However, opposition parties described the decision as dictatorial and unconstitutional.

President Gutierrez mustered a slim majority of 52 members of the 100-seat Congress in favour of his move to dismiss the Supreme Court judges.

The sacked judges were widely seen as close to the opposition Social Christian party, the largest group in Congress.

Those voting to dismiss the court included left-wing parties, independents and the Roldosista party, which is led by exiled former President Abdala Bucaram.

The opposition fears that the sackings are aimed at paving the way for Mr Bucaram's return home from Panama, where he fled to avoid corruption charges after being deposed by Congress in February 1997 on grounds of mental incapacity.

However, Mr Gutierrez denies the allegation.

The president welcomed the outcome of the congressional vote, saying Ecuador could "breathe easily" now that the judges had been removed.

However, Congressman Guillermo Haro of the opposition Democratic Left party told the Efe news agency that the move was the action of "a civil and military dictatorship", since Mr Gutierrez had the backing of the armed forces.

A new Supreme Court is due to be sworn in later on Thursday.

Ecuador impeachment drive dropped
10 Nov 04 |  Americas
Timeline: Ecuador
23 Sep 04 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Ecuador
01 Jun 04 |  Country profiles

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