Court grants ex-Nicaraguan president limited freedom

Nicaragua's supreme court on Tuesday declared valid a series of constitutional reforms passed by Congress to reduce President Enrique Bolanos' powers. The ruling came the same day the court granted ex-President Arnoldo Aleman - serving time on corruption charges - conditional release from house arrest Tuesday, against Bolanos' wishes. Presidential spokesman Lindolfo Monjarretz alleged that both of the court's rulings were the result of behind-the-scenes manipulation by Aleman with the help of Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega.

Aleman and other members of the ruling Constitutionalist Liberal Party joined forces with the Sandinistas after Bolanos, who served as Aleman's vice president, pursued corruption charges against his predecessor. Aleman, whose term ran from 1997 to 2002, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for fraud, misappropriation of public funds, embezzlement and criminal association in December 2003.

Ortega's and Aleman's forces control the Congress that approved the reforms against Bolanos, and the Supreme Court that issued Tuesday's rulings, among other government institutions. Opposition leaders also have threatened to strip Bolanos of his immunity from prosecution to face charges that he committed irregularities during his 2001 election campaign.

In its ruling regarding Aleman, the Supreme Court ordered that the ex-president be allowed to move freely throughout the province of Managua, which includes the capital of the same name and other surrounding cities. He is still prohibited from leaving the country, however. Aleman had been under house arrest until last month, when a judge from a lower court ruled that he should be released under family supervision for health reasons. Nicaraguan Attorney General Alberto Novoa filed a legal challenge to the ruling, and an appeals court judge later overturned it. Supreme Court judges sided with the first judge. They were meeting with Bolanos late Tuesday to discuss their ruling, but it was not clear whether the president planned to obey it, or when Aleman might be released, AP reports.

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