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Last Updated: Friday, 8 April, 2005, 10:56 GMT 11:56 UK
US offers to ease Ecuador crisis
Tear gas engulfs protesters during anti-government demonstrations outside Ecuador's Congress on 5 April 2005
The crisis has sparked new protests this week
The US has offered to mediate in Ecuador's growing political crisis as a deadlock continues over government efforts to overhaul the Supreme Court.

US ambassador Kristie Kenney said the sacking of the court's 31 judges in December and the naming of new ones had not strengthened the judiciary.

She said the US could promote dialogue between the government and opponents.

The crisis deepened last week when the new court dropped corruption charges against ex-President Abdala Bucaram.

Following the court's decision, Mr Bucaram returned on Saturday from eight years of exile in Panama, where he had fled to avoid the charges after being deposed by Congress on grounds of mental incapacity.

Mr Bucaram's Roldosista Party had backed President Lucio Gutierrez's drive to replace the Supreme Court. The party also helped to block an opposition attempt to impeach Mr Gutierrez in November.

Opponents say dismissing the judges was part of a government deal to exonerate Mr Bucaram in return for his political support.

But Mr Gutierrez said the old court had to go because its judges were biased in favour of opposition parties, particularly the Social Christians.

On Tuesday, police fired tear gas to disperse anti-government demonstrators who protested outside the Supreme Court and Congress calling for the new court's resignation.

Referendum

Ms Kenney told reporters on Thursday that Washington was ready to "facilitate dialogue" between all sectors of society to "strengthen the judiciary".

She said: "The way this court was named didn't constitute progress towards an independent, free and transparent court."

Mr Gutierrez wants to hold a referendum to secure public approval for a new court, but a proposal for a revised selection procedure failed to gain enough support in Congress on Thursday and was not put to a vote.

In a further sign of the president's deteriorating relations with Congress, a major economic reform bill seen as essential by the International Monetary Fund was overwhelmingly defeated.

Sixty-eight of the 71 congressmen present voted against the bill, aimed at opening up the oil, electricity and pensions sectors to private investment.

Mr Gutierrez cancelled plans to attend the Pope's funeral in Rome because of the political crisis.


SEE ALSO:
Ecuador minister quits over court
22 Feb 05 |  Americas
Rival mass rallies grip Ecuador
17 Feb 05 |  Americas
Supreme Court in Ecuador replaced
10 Dec 04 |  Americas
Ecuador dismisses Supreme Court
09 Dec 04 |  Americas
Ecuador impeachment drive dropped
10 Nov 04 |  Americas


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