Tuesday, November 29th 2005 - 20:00 UTC

Ecuador names Supreme Court judges

After seven long months Ecuador has selected new judges for the Supreme Court which was at the centre of a crisis that forced the ousting of former president Lucio Gutierrez.

Last April 15, and five days before being ousted by Congress, President Gutierrez sacked all judges in spite of not having the powers to do so.

The 31 judges chosen by an independent panel will be sworn Wednesday in the presence of international monitors. The selection panel which began working last July was intended to reflect a cross section of Ecuador's society and reached a final list after public hearings reviewing 165 candidates.

In the past court appointees were often handpicked by the powerful traditional parties and were generally mistrusted by public opinion.

International monitors who oversaw the selection process praised the professionalism, transparency, neutrality and dedication of the selection group.

Ecuador has been rocked by political turmoil for years, the latest of which with ousted president Gutierrez.

On taking power in 2002 on a left wing populist platform promising to tackle social problems, Mr. Gutierrez turned to the IMF and austerity measures to help finance the country's huge foreign debt.

But this caused widespread unrest and rioting with the situation worsening when President Gutierrez sacked almost all judges from the Supreme Court alleging they were biased against him.

The new Supreme Court named by Gutierrez promptly dropped outstanding corruption charges against the president's political ally and mentor, former president Abdala Bucaram, whose party had helped block attempts in Congress to impeach Gutierrez.

The ongoing instability and street rioting came to an abrupt end when the Ecuadorian congress finally voted to oust Mr. Gutierrez who ended leaving the country under protection from Brazil and United States.

However Mr. Gutierrez who was living in exile in Colombia last October decided to return to Ecuador to regain power, and is now under arrest on conspiracy charges.

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