Honduras ousts high court judges after ruling on police purge
TEGUCIGALPA (Reuters) - Honduran lawmakers on Wednesday dismissed four Supreme Court judges who had declared unconstitutional a law designed to purge the country's police of corruption, deepening a conflict between the ruling party and the court.
Lawmakers voted to oust the justices and name their replacements after a panel of judges on November 27 declared the law that established confidence exams as unconstitutional in a 4-1 vote.
The law in question required officers to undertake lie detector tests, drug screens and a probe of their personal wealth to determine if they could remain in the police force.
Honduran President Porfirio Lobo on Saturday said the judges were "against the purging of the police" and accused them of acting "in collusion to attack institutions."
Last week, Lobo said there was a growing conspiracy against him, aiming to remove him from office in coup similar to the ouster of former President Manuel Zelaya in June 2009 that plunged the country into a political crisis for months.
Led by lawmakers from Lobo's National Party, the country's unicameral legislature voted 97-31 in the early hours of Wednesday to remove the four judges from office.
The split ruling against the law by the five-member panel of judges set the legislation up for a review of the full 15-seat Supreme Court.
The head of the opposition Liberal Party, Alfredo Saavedra, said the ouster of the judges was "a blow to democracy" and he said their dismissal undermined the independence of the court.
The move was the latest development in an increasing dispute between Lobo's party and the Supreme Court, which recently threw out a tax on big companies and law designed to attract more foreign investment.
Officers who were fired after failing confidence exams had filed complaints before the Supreme Court, arguing that the law violated their rights to a fair defense and the presumption of innocence.
Lobo pushed for the confidence tests after a surge in violence in the poor Central American country that followed an expansion of Mexican drug cartels into Honduras.
According to the United Nations, Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.
(Reporting by Gustavo Palencia, writing by Michael O'Boyle; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)