Paraguay's president unexpectedly fired the armed forces chief and 58 military and police officers, calling it a routine reshuffling of the military high command and dismissing suggestions it was politically motivated.
President Nicanor Duarte did not provide a reason for Sunday's dismissals, aside from saying they were "normal in the institutional life of the military." However, opposition lawmakers had been clamoring for the ouster of the armed force chief, General Key Kanazawa, for the last year.
Last December, several senators criticized Kanazawa for releasing a signed communique criticizing legislators for failing to promote some 300 military officers. The senators said the military had no right to intervene in their affairs because the armed forces are subject to civilian rule.
Military-civilian relations have been a sensitive issue since Paraguay's 35-year dictatorship ended in 1989 with the ouster of General Alfredo Stroessner, who died in exile in Brazil on Aug. 16.
Duarte replaced Kanazawa with General Bernardino Soto. He also forced 12 army and naval chief officers to resign and fired 46 police officers, including the assistant national police chief.
"I've undertaken these changes in the armed forces command in accordance with the sovereign powers granted to me as commander in chief under the Constitution," Duarte said at a news conference at his official residence.
He said the dismissals "are not the result of political factors."
However, the Clarin newspaper of neighboring Argentina, South America's largest-circulation daily, reported the move was likely to help Duarte calm opposition lawmakers in Congress who blocked several bills since their angry outburst over Kanazawa's communique.
Duarte dismissed 32 top police officers in March last year, a month after authorities found the body of Cecilia Cubas, the kidnapped daughter of former President Raul Cubas. The abduction rocked this small South American country amid accusations that police investigators didn't do enough to find the woman before she was killed.
A Paraguayan leftist with purported links to a Colombian guerrilla leader was arrested on suspicion of masterminding the kidnapping, but the motive for the killing has remained unclear.