Americas

U.S. official faults El Salvador plan to fire all over-60 judges

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Representatives participate in a session to discuss the removal of Supreme Court judges at the Salvadoran congress, in San Salvador, El Salvador. REUTERS/Jose Cabezas

SAN SALVADOR, Sept 2 (Reuters) - A legal reform in El Salvador that seeks to fire all judges over the age of 60 that was approved by allies of President Nayib Bukele came under criticism from a U.S. official on Thursday, in the latest American rebuke of the president's agenda.

The over-60 purge is also set to apply to prosecutors, among other judicial branch employees, and forms part of Bukele's broader effort to revamp the Central American nation's justice system.

About a third of the country's nearly 700 judges, and dozens of prosecutors, could be relieved of their jobs under the plan, according to judicial branch data.

Jean Manes, the head of business affairs for the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, took to Twitter on Thursday to criticize the age-based employment policy.

"The reforms worry us," she wrote, citing the recently passed judicial career reforms and describing as essential "experience, deep knowledge and wisdom" for well-functioning legal institutions.

El Salvador risks arbitrarily shrinking its own talent pool, she added, if it engages it what she described as age discrimination.

While Bukele has not yet responded directly to Manes on social media, in a Wednesday night post he told U.S. Representative Norma Torres to "stop interfering" in the country's internal affairs in response to her criticism of the new legal reforms.

On Tuesday, lawmakers from Bukele's ruling party passed a series of bills to reform judiciary and prosecutor personnel laws, defending them as needed to clean up a system they say has doled out biased decisions in the past.

In May, a Congress dominated for the first time by Bukele's New Ideas party voted to fire the judges on the constitutional panel of the Supreme Court, among the most senior jurists in the country, as well as the then-attorney general.

Replacements seen as friendly to Bukele were swiftly voted in to replace them, which generated harsh criticism from the United States as well as top international rights groups deriding the moves as a power grab.

Bukele, one of Latin America's most popular leaders, won a landslide 2019 presidential election on a pledge to root out rampant crime and boost economic prospects so that young Salvadorans are not forced to migrate.

Reporting by Nelson Renteria in San Salvador Writing by David Alire Garcia Editing by Matthew Lewis

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