New Salvadoran Congress ousts attorney general in latest purge

By Nelson Renteria SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) -The party of El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele voted early on Sunday to remove the country's top prosecutor, part of an intensifying political purge that has rocked the Central American country and drawn international criticism. The vote shortly after midnight to dismiss Attorney General Raul Melara followed a new legislative majority's votes on Saturday night to kick out all of the judges on the constitutional chamber of the nation's supreme court, which provoked rebukes from the opposition and some international organizations

Reuters May 03, 2021 03:11:29 IST
New Salvadoran Congress ousts attorney general in latest purge

New Salvadoran Congress ousts attorney general in latest purge

By Nelson Renteria

SAN SALVADOR (Reuters) -The party of El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele voted early on Sunday to remove the country's top prosecutor, part of an intensifying political purge that has rocked the Central American country and drawn international criticism.

The vote shortly after midnight to dismiss Attorney General Raul Melara followed a new legislative majority's votes on Saturday night to kick out all of the judges on the constitutional chamber of the nation's supreme court, which provoked rebukes from the opposition and some international organizations.

After a call with Bukele later on Sunday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed his "grave concern" over the ouster of the judges and prosecutor in a statement.

Ruling party lawmakers accused Melara, whose office wields significant power to conduct investigations, of lacking independence, while Blinken cited what he described as the chief prosecutor's effective track record of fighting corruption and impunity.

The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden has cited corruption in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras as one of the root causes, along with gang violence and poverty, of the increased flow of migrants to the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Biden administration is pressing those governments to do more to fight graft and other crimes.

A savvy and constant user of social media, the popular Bukele stressed his desire to work with all sides, but he insisted the dismissals were warranted in a string of Twitter posts over the weekend.

"With all due respect, we're clearing our house and this isn't your responsibility," he wrote, specifically addressing "the international community."

(Bukele tweet) https://twitter.com/nayibbukele/status/1388705685689540615?s=20

International rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, denounced the removals as a dangerous power grab.

The five judges issued a ruling invalidating the legislative action minutes after the vote to remove them from their posts, declaring it an unconstitutional attack on El Salvador's democracy and plunging the country into an uncertain political battle.

In the hours after the initial vote on the judges, lawmakers representing the president's newly emboldened New Ideas party voted to replace the judges as well as the attorney general.

Police were called in to escort the new judges and prosecutor to their new offices.

The five ousted judges - the most powerful jurists on the 15-member court - were among the few remaining checks on Bukele's power. Bukele's party accused them of impeding the government's health strategy amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Later on Sunday, one of the five judges abruptly quit his post, according to a resignation letter posted on his Twitter account.

The New Ideas party took control of Congress after midterm elections in February gave it a large supermajority in the unicameral legislature. Saturday marked the new legislature's first session.

The votes to remove the judges and the prosecutor passed with 64 lawmakers in favor, or nearly 80% of the 84-seat legislature, significantly more than the two-thirds vote required by the constitution.

(Reporting by Nelson Renteria; Writing by David Alire Garcia; Editing by Will Dunham and Lisa Shumaker)

This story has not been edited by Firstpost staff and is generated by auto-feed.

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