Thousands of followers of Ecuadorian president Rafael Correa stormed Congress on Tuesday demanding support for constitutional reforms forcing the evacuation of legislators and a strong reaction from riot police with batons and tear gas.
The protestors shouting "death to the rats" and "down with Congress, yes to the popular assembly" briefly managed to enter the Congressional building before being forced out. Jorge Ceballos president of the Congress said protests forced him to close the legislature and accused Correa's government of supporting demonstrators. President Correa running as an independent was elected in November promising to introduce sweeping reforms to curtail the influence of traditional political parties that many Ecuadoreans blame for chronic instability and which he has publicly despised. With a formidable 73% approval rating compared to the 13% that favour the "corrupt and inefficient" Congress, --according to a recent Cedatos Gallup poll--, President Correa is pushing strongly for approval by the Electoral Tribunal of his March 18 referendum on the convening of an assembly with broad powers to draft a new constitution. However a majority in Congress, where Correa has no representatives since his party tabled no candidates, opposes the idea of a constitutional assembly which could effectively curb their influence. Protestors' leaders promised to continue with marches and more radical actions until Congress and the Electoral Tribunal approve the assembly referendum initiative. But members of Congress warned that if that was the case and the government couldn't guarantee security, "they would consider moving the legislature away from the capital Quito". Local television showed images of police escorting lawmakers out as protesters, some clad in the bright green shirts of Correa's movement, rallied outside. A photographer was hit in the face and two police officers were slightly hurt by thrown sticks, according to local authorities.