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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 March 2007, 04:48 GMT
Ecuador referendum row escalates
Rafael Correa
The referendum will decide whether to form a national assembly
Political tension is rising in Ecuador over a referendum on the drafting of a new constitution, planned for 15 April.

The opposition-controlled Congress has announced plans to impeach four members of the seven-seat electoral tribunal, which approved the referendum.

Meanwhile, the tribunal's president is seeking to fire 57 lawmakers who voted on Tuesday to oust him from office.

Left-wing President Rafael Correa, who was elected in November, is seeking the referendum to restructure Congress.

The referendum would decide whether to form a national assembly that would then consider reforms.

If Mr Correa has his way, ties with the IMF and the World Bank could be cut and the country's foreign debt restructured. Its oil wealth, he has said, will go back to the people.

Opinion polls suggest about 70% of Ecuadorians are in favour of an assembly.

Opposition figures say that Mr Correa is using the referendum to bypass legislature and consolidate his presidential authority.

'Political turmoil'

On Tuesday, 57 lawmakers in the 100-strong Congress voted to fire Mr Acosta for his decision to approve the referendum, and replace him with Alejandro Cepeda.

In a BBC interview, Mr Acosta said he had no intention of leaving his post and had, in turn, ordered the removal from office of the 57 deputies who voted against him.

Ecuador's government said it will back the move, adding the electoral laws can be applied to any public official who interferes with an electoral process.

Both sides have categorically rejected their dismissals as unconstitutional.

Congress had initially backed the referendum following weeks of protests and intense negotiations but later pulled its support after President Correa made last-minute revisions to the text, something which they say is unconstitutional.

The electoral tribunal has stood by its decision to move ahead with the referendum, saying there is no turning back from an electoral process which is already under way and which Congress had already approved.

Ecuador is no stranger to political turmoil and there is growing concern the spat could deteriorate in the coming days.


SEE ALSO
Ecuador Congress backs referendum
13 Feb 07 |  Americas
Protesters storm Ecuador Congress
31 Jan 07 |  Americas
Ecuador votes for break with past
27 Nov 06 |  Americas
Profile: Ecuador's Rafael Correa
27 Nov 06 |  Americas

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