LA PAZ, Bolivia – Bolivian lawmakers exchanged blows Wednesday as a long-simmering fight for control of the Andean country's judicial branch boiled over in the aisles of Congress.
Opposition leaders seized the dais in the lower house in a failed effort to block legislators aligned with President Evo Morales from bringing charges against the country's highest court for suspending four of his judicial appointees.
Lawmakers from Morales' party, who hold a slim majority in the chamber, tried to dislodge their rivals. Both sides stood on tables and yelled at the other before flinging cups of water and engaging in brief but violent fisticuffs.
The feud first began when Morales appointed four magistrate judges during a congressional recess in December.
Opposition leaders complained to Bolivia's Constitutional Tribunal, which ruled in May that the judges could serve only 90 days unless confirmed by Congress and ordered them temporarily suspended. Lawmakers approved their appointments last month.
But Morales has continued to press the issue, arguing the tribunal did not have the authority to suspend the magistrates. He asked Congress to file charges against four of five Constitutional Tribunal justices who had ruled against his appointees, saying they overstepped their legal duties.
Later Wednesday, lawmakers from Morales' party voted to approve the charges, effectively suspending the tribunal justices. The government hopes to name their replacements on Thursday, Vice President Alvaro Garcia said.
Opposition lawmakers decried the move as a violation of the nation's separation of powers and an attempt to stack the tribunal with justices favorable to Morales.