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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 February, 2005, 20:53 GMT
Ecuador minister quits over court
Judges leave the Supreme Court after tear gas is fired, December 2004
The president said the judges had become too politicised
Ecuador's Interior Minister Jaime Damerval has resigned amid simmering tensions over government efforts to overhaul the country's Supreme Court.

Mr Damerval said the sacking of the court's 31 judges in December had led to a crisis which had to be resolved.

President Lucio Gutierrez had them dismissed because of their close links with the opposition Social Christians.

He wants a referendum on the shake-up, but Mr Damerval has called for an electoral council to choose new judges.

Mr Damerval, who had spent less than four months in office, is the fourth interior minister to resign since President Gutierrez came to power two years ago.


President Gutierrez moved to curb the Social Christians' influence over the judiciary after the party led an abortive attempt to impeach him in November.

The following month, he mustered a slim majority of 52 members in the 100-seat Congress in favour of sacking the entire Supreme Court and drafting in temporary judges.

He said the move was aimed at making the country's highest court fairer and more representative, but his opponents called it dictatorial and unconstitutional.

Last week, Mr Damerval floated the idea of creating a new body to designate Supreme Court judges, instead of asking Ecuadoreans to vote on a constitutional amendment.

However, the scheme appealed more to opposition supporters than to the government.

In his resignation letter, he defended the plan, saying it was "urgent to resolve the crisis in the judiciary".

"I proposed a legal reform which would take effect immediately, because the consultation which you devised to this end could take a year, which is categorically unsuitable," he wrote.

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