Thursday, September 30, 2010

Attempted Coup In Ecuador: President Correa Denounces Action of Elements Within Police and Military

Ecuador in turmoil as president denounces 'coup attempt'

By Alexander Martinez

QUITO — Ecuador was plunged into political crisis Thursday as troops seized the country's main airport and stormed the Congress building in what President Rafael Correa denounced as an attempted coup.

About 150 renegade troops seized a runway at Ecuador's international airport in the capital of the South American nation, as dozens of police protested on the streets against a new law which would strip them of some pay bonuses.

Dozens of police units took over government buildings in the country's other two main cities, Guayaquil and Cuenca, and Foreign Minister Ricardo Pitino blamed the insurrection on "sectors aiming to overthrow the government."

The uprising occurred as Correa was in the hospital recovering from an operation on his knee, and the president said he was seeking refuge in the building fearing for his life.

"It is a coup attempt led by the opposition and certain sections of the armed forces and the police," Correa told local television.

"Whatever happens to me I want to express my love for my family and my homeland."

Correa charged some police had tried to storm his hospital room Thursday.

The Ecuadoran leader has vowed he will not bow in face of the protests, as the army chief threw his weight behind the Ecuadoran leader and vowed to restore order.

"No, I will not step back, if they want to seize the barracks, if they want to leave the citizens defenseless and betray their mission," Correa said earlier in a speech to soldiers from Quito's main regiment.

The largest demonstrations erupted in Quito where tear gas was used to try to disperse the crowds.

"The troops united will never be defeated," the demonstrators chanted, with some calling on the troops to join in the demonstrations.

But army chief Ernesto Gonzalez on Thursday threw his full support behind Correa, who was said to be considering dissolving Congress and holding snap elections to resolve the political crisis.

"We live in a state which is governed by laws, and we are subordinate to the highest authority which is the president of the republic," Gonzalez told a press conference.

"We will take whatever appropriate action the government decides on," he added.

Police chief Freddy Martinez also rushed to the scene of the demonstrations to call for calm, but was met with a hostile reception.

The leftist Correa was re-elected last year to a second term as president of the country of some 14.5 million people, which is bordered by Colombia and Peru.

International election observers at the time criticized Correa's "dominant" media presence in the run up to the vote, which they said had damaged the poll's fairness.

Since first coming to power in 2006, Correa has proven controversial because of his close ties to regional leftists like Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The US-educated economist took a tough stance with investors and refused to repay foreign debt, in moves welcomed by supporters who blamed the effects of the economic crisis on foreign liberalism.

Correa had nearly two years left of his current term, but a new constitution approved in 2008 let him bid to start over again.

Correa promised to pursue popular social programs funded by oil wealth in the OPEC nation where 38 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

His reelection was seen as giving some stability to the world's top banana exporter that has seen three of its previous presidents --between 1996 and 2006 -- ousted before the end of their terms.

Peru's Garcia says to shut Ecuador border due unrest

3:15pm EDT

LIMA (Reuters) - Peruvian President Alan Garcia said he was ordering the immediate closure of the border with neighboring Ecuador, where unrest erupted on Thursday with troops taking control of the main airport.

In confused and chaotic scenes in Quito, scores of soldiers swarmed over the landing strip of the international airport and President Rafael Correa accused rivals of seeking a coup and said he was considering dissolving Congress.

"I'm going to order that our borders are closed right now and that all trade on the northern border is halted until President Correa's authority is duly restored and resolved," Garcia said.

Garcia said foreign ministers from across South America would try to travel to Ecuador in a bid to resolve the conflict.

He also proposed a meeting of the regional ministers near to the border with Ecuador if they cannot make it into Ecuador.

(Reporting by Patricia Velez; Writing by Helen Popper, Editing by Sandra Maler)

Published on Thursday, September 30, 2010

Obama Administration Should Oppose Any Attempted Coup in Ecuador: CEPR Co-Director

by Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

Washington, D.C. - There are currently reports of a possible attempted coup d'etat underway in Ecuador. There have been violent protests by police and some elements of the military, reports that President Correa has been injured, and reports that the air force has closed down a number of airports.

The Organization of American States will convene an emergency meeting at 2:30 Eastern Standard Time in Washington D.C., to consider the situation.

Mark Weisbrot, Co-Director of the Center For Economic and Policy Research, called upon President Obama to state unequivocally that the United States will not recognize any government other than the democratically elected government of President Rafael Correa.

Weisbrot noted that the White House statement of June 28, 2009, in response to the military coup in Honduras, did not make any such assertion, and in fact did not even condemn the coup.

"These types of statements are very important, in that the people who are trying to overthrow a democratic government are looking for signs of whether a coup government will be recognized by the United States. The first White House statement last year in response to the Honduran military coup sent the wrong signal at a crucial moment."

At the Summit of the Americas in Trinidad in April 2009, President Obama stated: "I just want to make absolutely clear that I am absolutely opposed and condemn any efforts at violent overthrows of democratically elected governments, wherever it happens in the hemisphere.

"This is an important time for President Obama to live up to this commitment," said Weisbrot.

Ecuador's president, claiming coup attempt, 'won't relent'

By Arthur Brice, CNN

The president was led away in a gas mask after police lobbed tear gas at him

"This is treason to the country," says President Rafael Correa

A crowd jostled the president, who tried to calm the situation

Protesting police say government canceled bonuses and promotions

(CNN) -- Ecuador teetered on the verge of a government collapse Thursday, as national police took to the streets of Quito, the capital, and attacked the president over what they say was the cancellation of bonuses and promotions.

"This is a coup attempt," President Rafael Correa said in a TV interview a couple of hours after police lobbed tear gas at him.

Correa, who was forced to flee to a nearby hospital, said police were trying to get at him.

"They're trying to get into my room, maybe to attack me. I don't know," he said in a telephone interview with the state-run Ecuador TV. "But, forget it. I won't relent. If something happens to me, remember my infinite love for my country, and to my family I say that I will love them anywhere I end up."

A broadcast by the government's Ecuador TV showed mobs on the streets and clouds of black smoke coming from burning tires and garbage. Sporadic looting was reported.

Correa had taken to the streets to try to calm the situation but was soon surrounded and jostled by a crowd and forced to flee after the tear gas incident. Some of those shoving him were police officers in full gear.

Video from CNN affiliate Teleamazonas show a hunched-over Correa being led away as he covered his face with a gas mask. Correa, who recently underwent knee surgery, leaned on a crutch with his left arm.

A news photograph later showed him lying on a stretcher.

A government helicopter had tried to evacuate him but was unable to land.

He went on the air from a hospital a couple of hours later to denounce what he called a cowardly attack.

"They fired gas on us -- on the president of the republic," Correa said on the Ecuador TV telephone interview. "This is treason to the country, treason to their president."

Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino led a large and boisterous pro-government rally at the Carondelet Palace, the president's home. He urged the crowd to take to the streets to peacefully "reject this coup" and "to rescue our president."

Said Patino, "We are not afraid of anyone."

Analysts pointed to the government's precariousness.

"This is the most serious protest that the government of Rafael Correa has faced," analyst Eduardo Gamarra told CNN en Espanol.

Rank-and-file police took over their headquarters, Ecuador TV said.

There also were reports that the military had taken control of their bases and the airport.

Government officials tried to quell the rebellion, insisting that the security forces had been misinformed and warning that the nation's democracy was in danger.

"I want to tell the country there has been an attempt at a coup," said Gabriel Rivera of the Country Accord Party.

"This is a Machiavellian plan organized by sectors of the right," Rivera said on Ecuador TV.

Miguel Carvajal, the minister for interior security, said there was no threat to salaries or benefits. He blamed the reports of the benefit cuts on a massive disinformation campaign.

"He who says that is lying," Carvajal said.

"We call on the citizens. We call on the armed forces. We call on other governments to defend our democratic institutions," he said.

A police spokesman went on the air on Teleamazonas to dispute the government's allegations, saying that the security forces were in fact supporting Correa.

"Fellow officers who hear me nationally, stop this action," said the spokesman, identified only as Sgt. Mejia. "Don't close the streets. Return to the streets to work."

The disturbances occurred as Correa threatened to dissolve the national assembly over a dispute about several laws, including public service and education.

Angry police said they were overworked and underpaid.

"We work 14 hours a day," a uniformed officer said on Ecuador TV. "We are the ones who never protest."

Said another: "One hour without police. Let's see what happens."

Diego Borja, director of the central bank, went on the air to urge calm and for people to take care.

"The police are not protecting the people. They are protesting," he said. "There could be problems."

He also sought to prevent a run on deposits.

"The money is safe," he said. "But be careful if making large withdrawals."

CNN's Rafael Romo contributed to this report.

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Unrest in Ecuador shuts airport

Ecuador president accuses opposition of staging a coup as soldiers shut the capital's main airport and storm Congress

Al Jazeera
Last Modified: 30 Sep 2010 18:57 GMT

Unrest has erupted in Ecuador on Thursday with soldiers taking control of the main airport, police protesting in the streets and looting in the capital while the president considered dissolving a deadlocked Congress.

President Rafael Correa denounced what he called "a coup attempt." Unconfirmed reports said the he was hospitalised due to the effects of tear gas.

In confused and chaotic scenes in Quito, scores of soldiers took over the landing strip of the international airport, discontinuing flights.

Witnesses said there was looting in Quito and in the city of Guayaquil, and that many workers and school students were being sent home.

Elsewhere in Quito, uniformed police burned tires in protest at a proposal to cut their bonuses.

The Opec-member country of 14 million people has a long history of political instability. Street protests toppled three presidents during economic turmoil in the decade before Correa took power.

Members of Correa's own left-wing party are blocking legislative proposals aimed at cutting state costs, prompting him to mull disbanding Congress, a move that would let him rule by decree until new elections, one of his ministers said.

'Not a popular mobilisation'

Ernesto Gonzalez, head of the armed forces, said that troops remained loyal to Correa. "We are in a state of law. We are loyal to the maximum authority, which is the president," he told reporters.

Ricardo Patino, the foreign minister played down the severity of the protests. "This is not a popular mobilisation, it is not a popular uprising, it is an uprising by the police who are ill-informed," he told TV network Telesur.

Diego Borja, the central bank chief, called for calm and urged Ecuadoreans not to withdraw money from banks.

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.

"This a scenario that nobody would want, but it is a possibility when the conditions for change do not exist," Doris Solis, the policy minister, said after meeting Correa and other senior officials late on Wednesday.

"A decision still has not been made," she told reporters.

"Lawmakers in our coalition have the obligation to be coherent with our project for change."

Political in-fighting

More than half of the 124-member Congress are officially allied with Correa, but the president has blasted lawmakers from his own Country Alliance party for not going along with his proposals for shrinking the country's bureaucracy.

Police in the cities of Quito and Guayaquil protested at their headquarters. Officers in Guayaquil blocked some roads leading to the coastal city, Ecuador's most populous.

"Respect our rights," uniformed officers shouted.

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.

His government alienated international capital markets when it defaulted on $3.2 billion in global bonds two years ago.

Correa, an ally of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuela's socialist president, declared the debt "illegitimate."

Cash has been tight since then as the country relies on multilateral loans and bilateral lending to meet its international financing obligations.

Once in power, Correa backed the rewriting of the constitution to tilt the balance of power toward the executive.

He easily won re-election under the new constitution in 2009, and he is allowed to stand again in 2013.

Source: Agencies

30 September 2010
Last updated at 14:42 ET

Ecuador's President Correa denounces 'coup attempt'

Mr Correa was forced to flee a protest at a barracks when tear gas was fired by angry troops

Ecuador's president has denounced a "coup attempt" after mass protests by members of the security forces against his government's austerity programme.

After being forced to flee a rally at a barracks in Quito, Rafael Correa said "the opposition and sections of the armed forces and police" were to blame.

Mr Correa said they would have to kill him first to achieve their goals.

On Wednesday, Congress passed a law ending bonuses and other benefits for civil servants, including the military.

But members of Mr Correa's left-wing party have threatened to block proposals to shrink the bureaucracy, prompting him to consider disbanding Congress and ruling by decree until new elections.

Such a move would have to be approved by the Constitutional Court.

Airport closed

On Thursday morning, members of the armed forces and police angry at the austerity measures occupied several barracks and set up road blocks across Ecuador to demand they be abandoned by the government.

Television stations showed images of police setting tyres on fire in the streets of Quito, Guayaquil and other cities.

In a speech to soldiers from Quito's main regiment, President Correa said: "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough.

"If you want to seize the barracks, if you want to leave citizens undefended, if you want to betray the mission of the police force, go ahead. But this government will do what has to be done. This president will not take a step back."

However, Mr Correa was forced to flee the barracks wearing a gas mask shortly afterwards when tear gas was fired by the protesters.

The president was later treated for the effects of the gas at a police hospital, from where he told local media that he had been "attacked".

"They threw tear gas at us. One exploded near my face. It stunned me and my wife for a few seconds, probably minutes," he said.

"It is a coup attempt led by the opposition and certain sections of the armed forces and the police," he said. "Whatever happens to me I want to express my love for my family and my homeland."

Meanwhile, about 300 air force personnel and soldiers took control of the runway at Mariscal Sucre International Airport, causing flights to be grounded.

The protesters carried signs demanding the government give more respect to the military over benefits, witnesses told the Reuters news agency.

The US embassy said Guayaquil's airport was also closed.

Despite the unrest, the head of Armed Forces Joint Command, Gen Luis Ernesto Gonzalez Villarreal, said the troops remained loyal.

"We live in a state which is governed by laws, and we are subordinate to the highest authority which is the president of the republic," he said.

"We will take whatever appropriate action the government decides on."

The country's central bank chief, Diego Borja, meanwhile urged its citizens not to withdraw money from the country's banks amid reports of looting. Many schools and business were also closed because of the unrest.

One BBC News website reader in Guayaquil said three of the city's banks had been robbed, and described Ecuador as a "disaster zone".

"We don't know what will happen," he said. "There are no law enforcement agencies working. You can't go out in the streets."

The US state department said it was "closely monitoring" the situation.

Ecuador has a history of political instability. Protests toppled three presidents during economic turmoil in the decade before Mr Correa, a 47-year-old US-trained economist, took power in 2007.

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