Troops Free Ecuador President

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Al-Jazeera-English

Troops Free Ecuador President

Soldiers storm hospital where Rafael Correa had been trapped by police officers protesting over plans to cut benefits.

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Correa said those responsible for the uprising would be punished 'without pardon'. (Reuters)

Security forces loyal to Ecuador's president have stormed a hospital
in the capital, Quito, where Rafael Correa was trapped by police
officers protesting over plans to cut their benefits. 

Twelve
hours after police surrounded the hospital on Thursday, soldiers
moved amid heavy gunfire and Correa was rushed out of the building. 

Two policemen were killed when the army attacked the hospital, the
Red Cross said. At least 37 others were injured as Correa supporters
skirmished with police outside the hospital.

Addressing supporters after his release, the president said the
uprising was not a simple police insurrection over pay-related
grievances but an attempt to overthrow him.

"There were lots of infiltrators, dressed as civilian and we know
where they were from,"  he shouted from the balcony of the presidential
palace.

Correa said those responsible for the rebellion would be punished.

"There will be no pardon," he said, as celebrating crowds waved flags and cheered.

Miguel Alvear, a journalist in Quito, told Al Jazeera late Thursday night that the president appeared to be fully in control.

"He has the support of the armed forces and the attorney-general has
already announced that he will investigate and prosecute the people
behind this."

'Banks looted'

However, Al Jazeera's Monica Villamizar, reporting from the capital, said the situation was still tense and roads empty.

"Most people are locked in their houses, as police have warned that
they are not going to protect them, that they are on strike and anything
could happen," she said.

"There are also reports of looting. Banks have been looted, some in the capital and some in the commercial city of Guayaquil."

The government has declared a state of siege, putting the military in
charge of public order, suspending civil liberties and allowing
warrantless
searches.

Evo Morales, Bolivia's president, summoned the South American Union
to an emergency meeting in Buenos Aires while Correa was still held in
the hospital.

Heads of states on Friday denounced the police rebellion as an
"attempted coup", saying they were determined "not to tolerate any new
assault against the institutional authority."

Al Jazeera's Craig Mauro, reporting from Buenos Aires, said the
meeting was a show of of South American unity and concern for
democratisation across political lines.

"The presidents span a wide ideological spectrum from those on the
socialist left, Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, to right-wingers like
Sebastian Pinera of Chile and Alan Garcia of Peru," he said.

"But all of them are saying the same thing – that this must be
condemned. There will be unanimous agreement here that Correa should
stay in power in Ecuador."

President teargassed

Correa had been attacked by police demonstrating against cuts to
their bonuses and frozen promotions when he tried to talk to them
earlier on Thursday.

A tear-gas cannister exploded close to the president's face and
overcome by the fumes, he was taken to the nearby National Police
Hospital.

Once inside, though, Correa was unable to leave, surrounded by
mutinous police as clashes broke out in the streets of the capital.

A state of emergency was called after police stormed congress, blocked roads and set fires outside their barracks.

Though the high-ranking military officials stayed loyal to Correa,
some soldiers joined the protests and seized Quito's main international
airport, halting flights for several hours.

After his rescue, Correa gave special thanks to an elite police
special operations unit that remained loyal and protected the hospital
from the mob outside.

"If not for them, this horde of savages that wanted to kill, that
wanted blood, would have entered the hospital to look for the president
and I probably wouldn't have been telling you this because
I would have passed on to a better life," he said.

The president blamed the unrest on Lucio Gutierrez, a former
president who came to power in a popular uprising and was deposed in
2005.

Interviewed by CNN in Brazil, Gutierrez denied "the cowardly, false, reckless accusations of President Correa."

Fransisco Dominguez, the head of the Centre of Brazilian and Latin
American Studies at Middlesex University in the UK, told Al Jazeera that
there were factors pointing to the involvement of Gutierrez.

"During the worst part of the crisis yesterday [Thursday], he called
for the complete dissolution of parliament and also the resignation of
Correa," he said.

Peru and Colombia closed their countries' borders with Ecuador in
solidarity with Correa. Along with the rest of the region's leaders and
the United States, they expressed firm support for Correa.

Political instability

The law which provoked the unrest was approved by congress on
Wednesday but has not yet taken effect because it must first be
published.

Ecuador, with a population of 14 million, has a long history of
political instability. Street protests toppled three presidents during
economic turmoil in the decade before Correa was elected in 2006.

More than half of the 124-member congress are officially allied with
Correa, but some in his left-wing Country Alliance party have been
blocking budget proposals aimed at cutting state costs.

To solve the deadlock, Correa has said he is considering dissolving
congress. Ecuador's two-year-old constitution allows the president to
declare a political impasse that could dissolve congress until a new
presidential and parliamentary elections can be held.

The measure would, however, have to be approved by the Constitutional Court to take effect.

Correa, a US trained economist, was first elected in 2006 promising a
"citizens' revolution" aimed at increasing state control of Ecuador's
natural resources and fighting what he calls the country's corrupt
elite.

Once in power, Correa backed the rewriting of the constitution to
tilt the balance of power towards the executive. He easily won
re-election under the new constitution in 2009, and he is allowed to
stand again in 2013.

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