Port-au-Prince, Haiti: Judges and public prosecutors on December 13 began a five-day strike to protest the decision of the dismissal of five judges by the interim government last week.

The Haitian National Association of Magistrates (ANAMAH) said their action is to force the government to rescind its decision to fire the Supreme Court judges.

“The Supreme Court is all is left to this country. We are not going to allow the interim government destroy it,” ANAMAH’s president, judge Jean Perez Paul, said on Tuesday.

In an executive order dated  December 9 and signed by interim president Boniface Alexandre, Prime Minister Gerard Latortue and Justice Minister Henri Dorlean, the government decided to dismiss the five judges one day after the Supreme Court confirmed a previous decision to authorize a Haitian-born US millionaire to run for president.

The five judges were immediately replaced, but Anamah said that the action was unconstitutional.

“Not only that the decision is arbitrary, unconstitutional, but it is taken by an interim government which has no authority whatsoever to take such decision,” said Paul, saying that the five-day work stoppage is the first in a series of action the group intended to take to force the government to withdraw its decision.

But, despite the government’s decision to dismiss the judges, three of them were at their offices on Tuesday ignoring the executive order.

“We were appointed for ten years and we stick to our mandate,” one of the judges said.

“The constitution says no instance has the authority to put an end to our function without our consent or in the absence of evidence of permanent physical or mental disability duly established,” he added.

President Alexandre’s chief of staff, Michel Brunache, said the government’s intent was to rejuvenate the court and to enhance its capacity to face current challenges.

“There are judges who are very old who needed to be replaced. The law allows the government to retire judges that are sick even though they are irremovable,” said Brunache.

However, lawyers and judges dismissed the suggestion saying one of the judges, Djacaman Charles, is just about 60 years old and there is no medical certificate establishing any “permanent physical or mental disability.”

A very respected Haitian lawyer, Constantin Mayard Paul, in his 70s, said he never saw such “catastrophe.”

“This is a real disaster. We can’t allow it happen,” said Mayard-Paul said on radio.

“It is even worst when this shameful decision comes from somebody who was the president of the very Supreme Court,” said octogenarian Gerard Gourgue, a highly regarded law professor and former Justice minister, who is among the presidential candidates.

Haiti plans to hold crucial presidential and legislative elections on January 8 , with a run-off on  February 15, 2006. The new elected leader is due to take office by  February 24.