QUITO, ECUADOR: Ecuador was under a state of siege on Friday, with the military in charge of public order after rescuing the President, Mr Rafael Correa from a hospital where he had been surrounded, roughed up and tear gassed by rebellious police.
Mr Correa and his ministers called Thursday’s revolt – in which insurgents also paralyzed the nation with airport shutdowns and highway blockades – an attempt to overthrow him and not just a simple insurrection over a new law that cuts benefits for public servants.
Other South American presidents quickly showed their support for Correa, rushing to a meeting in Buenos Aires early Friday and condemning what they called a coup attempt and kidnapping of Correa. The US also warned those who threaten Ecuador’s democracy that Correa has full US support.
Both Mr Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and Mr Evo Morales of Bolivia alleged Friday that the United States was somehow behind the police rebellion, despite forceful US declarations otherwise.
“The United States deplores violence and lawlessness, and we express our full support for President Rafael Correa and the institutions of democratic government in that country,” the US Secretary of State, Ms Hillary Clinton said.
At least three people – two police officers and a soldier – were killed and dozens injured in the clashes, said Irina Cabezas. the vice president of congress. Five soldiers were wounded – two critically – in the firefight at the hospital before Correa was removed at top speed in an SUV, according to the military and Red Cross.
Mr Correa was trapped for more than 12 hours in the hospital, where he was being treated for the tear-gassing that nearly asphyxiated him when he tried to reason with angry police officers at a capital barracks. The officers also roughed him up and pelted him with water.
Mr Correa, speaking from the balcony of the Carondelet palace after his dramatic rescue, told hundreds of cheering supporters that Thursday “was the saddest day of my life.” He thanked those who had converged on the hospital Thursday “ready to die to defend democracy” – his loyalists had hurled stones at mutinous police, who repelled them with tear gas.
The president said 27 of his special forces bodyguards had been injured in the melee and the unrest was not just a pay dispute.
“There were lots of infiltrators, dressed as civilians, and we know where they were from,” the US-trained leftist economist shouted.
In a post-midnight news conference Friday, Ms Correa added: “They wanted deaths, they wanted blood.” He sat in a ceremonial chair and wore the yellow, blue and red presidential sash.
He had blamed his political foes all day, but without naming anyone specifically. His foreign minister, Mr Ricardo Patino, however, pointed the finger at the former president, Mr Lucio Gutierrez, who co-led the 2000 coup that ousted Jamil Mahuad. In a TV interview, Gutierrez called that accusation “totally false.”