Injured Correa vows to fight ‘coup’ in Ecuador

Thursday, September 30, 2010

QUITO - Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa claimed Thursday a police mutiny that was causing chaos in the South American country was an attempted coup.

Most police and some rank-and-file military officers were refusing to obey orders in a large part of Ecuador and had taken control of the largest police barracks in the capital and the airport.

The mutiny spread quickly to the rest of Ecuador. Several roads were blocked, local and international flights were cancelled and banks closed as police officers left their positions on traffic patrol, streets, airports and other key sites.

Correa was in hospital after being pushed around and suffering from the effects of tear gas during his visit to the centre of the spreading police mutiny.

“This is a coup attempt by the opposition and some police officers,” he told Ecuadorian television from hospital. He claimed people were trying to break into his hospital room even as he spoke.

Correa said the police protest was “unacceptable and unjustified”, and he vowed not to turn back in his reform of Ecuadorian institutions.

The security forces were protesting a new law passed Tuesday by the National Assembly, which according to officers eliminates decorations, bonuses and other benefits. The government insists that these are not being scrapped, but only allocated differently.

Police spokesman Florencio Ruiz, escorted by police generals, called upon Correa to show his “sensitivity” in responding to the demands of police and military officers. He stressed that the demands are not political and do not seek to topple Correa, although he admitted that “there are parties who could take advantage” of the protest.

Ruiz read out demands, asking that benefits be reinstated and that police social security remain as it is now. And he asked colleagues in the provinces to return to their positions to avoid “a bloodbath”.

Correa blamed the uprising on the opposition.

“Those who cannot win at the polls, they conspire,” he said.

“They can pick the flowers, but they cannot prevent the arrival of spring,” he said of critics.

General Luis Gonzalez, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the Ecuadorian Armed Forces, had stressed earlier that the military remains “at the orders of their commander in chief, President Rafael Correa”.

“The rule of law will prevail in Ecuador,” Gonzalez said.

Around 1,000 police officers refused to obey orders beginning at 7 a.m. (1200 GMT) and took control of the Quito Regiment, the largest police facility in the Ecuadorian capital.

President Correa visited the regiment, but failed to talk to the rebellious officers. He left with the warning that he will not take “a single step back”.

“If they want to kill me, let them kill me,” Correa said, baring his chest to show he had no bulletproof gear.

Bucketfuls of water were thrown on Correa as he left, and he was pushed around as he tried to make his way out through a crowd. His bodyguards used tear gas to facilitate his exit.

Correa underwent surgery on his knee last week, and had a prosthesis implanted. Early Thursday he lost his crutch, his leg was bent and he choked on the tear gas that his bodyguards needed to use to get him out, so he needed hospital treatment.

However, he said he was feeling well and was getting ready to return to the presidential palace, he said.

Military officers took over the runway at Quito’s international airport. They went as far as the hangar, which holds the presidential helicopter and plane, to prevent Correa from leaving.

The Education Ministry ordered the suspension of lessons at all schools in Quito “until further notice”.

Shops also started to close, for fear of looting and other violence.

This is the first such crisis in unstable Ecuador since Correa took office in 2007.

Filed under: Politics

Tags: ,
will not be displayed