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Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Ecuador's Correa slams court ruling as "shameless"

QUITO, April 23 (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa on Monday condemned as a "shameless deal" the top court's ruling to reinstate 50 fired opposition lawmakers, risking heightened political tension in the volatile Andean country.

His comments, broadcast by Ecuadorean television, stopped short of rejecting the ruling. Correa is at loggerheads with Congress as he tries to wrestle power from the country's old elites.

"They (court judges) struck a shameless deal with the 57 dismissed lawmakers," Correa said.

The election court, which originally fired the lawmakers, rejected the ruling and threatened to sue the constitutional court judges.

Ecuadoreans last week massively backed Correa's call for a new body that could strip powers from congressmen, seen as enjoying too many vested interests in state companies and the judiciary.

The 50 lawmakers reinstated on Monday had been among 57 forced out last month by an electoral court, which said they violated election law by trying to block the referendum.

Correa, a U.S-educated economist, wants to use his mandate to reduce the influence of a Congress perceived as corrupt.


A spokesman for the court had earlier said all 57 were reinstated but changed that to 50 after reviewing the court documents.

"We will return to Congress," said Gloria Gallardo, one of the fired legislators, although it was not clear when the ruling would take effect. "We ask for calm and consensus."

Senior Goldman Sachs economist Alberto Ramos warned the reinstatement could raise the stakes in the volatile Andean state, which has had eight presidents in a decade, three of them ousted in disputes with Congress.

Wall Street is watching Ecuador closely as Correa vows to renegotiate oil deals and restructure the national debt.

"This will significantly strengthen the opposition to the Correa administration and increases the chances that the opposition parties could fare well in the October elections for the new Constituent Assembly," Ramos added.

Former President Lucio Gutierrez is looking to gain a foothold in the assembly to rewrite the constitution, seeking to revive his political fortunes after being ousted amid popular demonstrations and charges of cronyism in 2005.

After the decision to reinstate the lawmakers, hundreds of protesters from a leftist party that supports Correa made a brief sally into the constitutional court building, a Reuters photographer said.

The ruling, approved by six of the nine court members, comes as lawmakers were scheduled to decide on a bill to dissolve the court.

(Additional reporting by Angelo Chamba and Alonso Soto)

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