The government responded that the electoral laws could be applied to any public official who interferes with an electoral process.

"The government announces it will respect and comply with the law, therefore, with the ruling of the election court," Monica Chuji, a spokeswoman, told reporters.

Instability

Correa, who was elected in November, has no representatives in congress but is popular with the public for pledging to take on the political parties that many Ecuadoreans blame for the instability that has toppled three presidents in a decade.
The referendum proposal was approved in
February after weeks of protests [EPA]
 
Fifty-two congressmen voted on Tuesday to fire Jorge Acosta, the president of the electoral court, in a move experts say was aimed at delaying the referendum and securing an opposition majority in the court.
On Wednesday, the electoral court responded by saying that they had violated the constitution and election law by firing Acosta and they would be stripped of their political rights for one year.

Five other congressmen who had voted for the impeachment of four members of the seven-seat tribunal were also included in the motion.

"Under the election law, the court has the powers to expel those lawmakers," Simon Pachano, an analyst with Ecuador's branch of the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences, told Reuters news agency. "But we are going to see a fierce battle over its legality."

Police informed

The tribunal said it had informed the national police and the attorney general's office of its decision.

In response to a reporter's question asking whether police would be used to stop the 57 lawmakers from entering congress, Gustavo Larrea, the interior minister, said: "That is the decision of the supreme tribunal ... and they have to enforce it."

Correa, a former economy minister, has called congress a "sewer of corruption" and wants a special assembly to be called to rewrite the constitution to prevent political parties from interfering with institutions including the courts.

Critics say he wants to bypass the legislature and consolidate presidential authority with the special assembly as his ally Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president, did after his 1998 election.

The initial proposal for the referendum was approved in February after weeks of street protests by Correa supporters but opposition politicians now accuse Correa of making changes to the referendum text without their approval.
 
They say the rewrites grant the proposed assembly the power to dissolve congress.