The Honduran Congress fired four Supreme Court justices on Wednesday, raising fears of a new political crisis three years after a coup, AFP reports.
As dozens of soldiers guarded the Congress, 97 of 128 lawmakers voted in favor of removing four of the five judges from the court's constitutional chamber.
The justices had rejected a bid by President Porfirio Lobo to purge the national police, with drug tests and lie detectors to get rid of cops linked to organized crime.
Congress Speaker Juan Orlando Hernandez, of the governing National Party, said the ruling was "worrisome for the Honduran state" and that it was "practically a conspiracy."
The justices' ouster could put the Congress and the president on a collision course with the judicial branch and spark an institutional crisis, analysts and local media warned.
"Our dismissal is totally illegitimate, illegal and unfair," the four justices said in a statement, adding that they were being fired for "political" reasons.
Lobo had criticized the court's decision on Saturday and warned of a "plot" to oust him just like his predecessor, Manuel Zelaya, who was forced out by soldiers at gunpoint on June 28, 2009.
"By ruling this way, the justices are against their own country," Lobo said.
The four justices sided with an attorney for the police who said that the measures would amount to self-incrimination.
But since the ruling was not unanimous, the case must now go to the full 15-member Supreme Court by the end of this week.
A senior official close to Lobo told AFP that the president, the court's chief justice and the congressional speaker have been talking "to avoid an institutional crisis."
The head of the Liberal Party opposition, Jose Alfredo Saavedra, said the Congress had "exceeded its powers."
German Leitzelar, lawmakers from the social democratic Innovation Party, said the vote showed an "anti-democratic conduct."
Honduras has the world's highest murder rate, with 92 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the United Nations.