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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 06:50 GMT

World: Americas

Venezuela suspends scores of judges

Chavez supporters compare him to revolutionary heroes of the past

A special commission in Venezuela has suspended another 73 judges as part of a drive to clean up the notoriously corrupt judicial system.

Officials said 55 judges were suspended for failing to process cases quickly enough or of committing other such errors, while 18 face more serious accusations such as taking bribes.

The latest round of suspensions brings the number of judges removed from their posts to almost 200 out of a total of about 1,200.

Manuel Quijada, the head of a special judicial commission said: "Everybody knows that here rulings have always been sold by rates."

Prison riots

He blamed long delays in trying cases for a recent outbreak of violence in overcrowded jails, which already were considered among the most violent in the world.

Venezuela's special judicial commission is investigating some 4,000 formal allegations of corruption or wrongdoing by the nation's judges.

If subsequent investigations clear the suspended judges they will be allowed to go back to their jobs, like nine of the officials suspended in the last tranche in October.

BBC Latin America correspondent Peter Greste says the entire system is widely regarded as one of the world's most corrupt and inefficient.

Bad habits

More than half of the country's 21,000 prisoners are still awaiting trial and pay-offs to judges are considered common practice.

The attack on corruption in the judiciary is part of President Hugo Chavez's peaceful revolution to wipe away the old political elite, which is blamed for turning the oil-rich state into one of the world's most corrupt and poverty-stricken countries.

The Constitutional Assembly which he brought into existence declared the judicial emergency shortly after it was elected three months ago to draft the country's new body of laws.

The assembly appointed the judicial commission to deal with the emergency, although its critics say it has no right to do so.

Last week the assembly voted to extend the presidential term, allowing Mr Chavez to govern for up to 12 years.

His campaign has brought him huge popularity, with polls consistently giving him between 70% and 80% support.

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