CAIRO — Senior Egyptian judges halted talks with President Mohammed Morsi on judicial reforms on Wednesday after parliament decided to discuss the proposed laws despite presidential promises to seek consensus first.
Islamist lawmakers allied to Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood are pushing a bill that would force out more than 3,000 judges by lowering the retirement age.
The Brotherhood accuses many judges of being remnants of the era of deposed President Hosni Mubarak, saying they have sought to obstruct elections, legislation and attempts to bring corrupt former officials to justice.
The judicial reform bill has also angered liberal, leftist and ultra-conservative Islamist opposition groups which accuse the Brotherhood of trying to control state institutions rather than pressing genuine reforms. The Brotherhood denies this.
Under pressure over the bill last month, Morsi invited senior jurists to hold a "justice conference" to discuss the reforms. He said he would personally adopt the proposals that came out of the meeting.
But the Supreme Judicial Council said it was halting preparations for the conference after the Shura Council, the Islamist-dominated upper house that claims legislative power, said it would resume discussions of the law on May 25.
"We've stopped work on the conference until the presidency clarifies its position on this issue," senior judge Abdel Rahman Behloul told Reuters by phone. "There are bodies in dispute. The vision of the president is different from the vision of the Shura Council. So what will happen?"
A spokesman for the presidency was not immediately available to comment on the judges' decision.
The row has widened Egypt's political rifts, adding to the turbulence that has hammered the economy since Mubarak's overthrow in a popular uprising in February 2011.
Cairo negotiating with the International Monetary Fund for a a $4.8 billion loan conditioned on economic reforms which the IMF says should be backed by a broad political consensus.
Abdullah Fathi, deputy head of the Judges Club, said parliament's decision to resume the discussions was "a farce and a joke," the state news agency MENA reported.
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