A group of congressmen ousted by Ecuador's top electoral court for trying to block President Rafael Correa's plans for a national referendum forced their way into Congress and took up their seats as rival police forces answering to the executive and legislative branches scuffled with each other.
''We are in a dictatorship!'' shouted one of the dismissed legislators, opposition Congresswoman Gloria Gallardo, who made her way into the chamber through riot police and tear gas. Ecuador, one of the most politically unstable countries in South America has been embroiled in a power crisis following the confrontation between the government and Congress over reforms to be instrumented through the election of a constitutional assembly. At least two members of Congress and three other people were injured before the standoff ended. Failing to gather a quorum of the 100-member unicameral legislature, the lawmakers left the building quietly to avoid a crowd of about 200 pro-Correa hecklers outside. In a radio interview before the incident, Correa urged his supporters to avoid violence. "Don't let these people who are trying to generate chaos provoke you," he said. The US educated economist and ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, has demanded that the fired lawmakers be replaced by substitutes from the same parties, in a move that could boost his clout over an unruly and widely unpopular Congress. Fifty-seven legislators have refused to accept an electoral court decision that fired them last week. They had sought to reverse an earlier ruling that would allow the highly popular Correa to hold a referendum to weaken Congress' powers. Rafael Correa was elected in October on a platform of convoking a constituent assembly to rewrite the constitution, which is widely seen as in need of reform. No president in the past decade has seen out his full term. The president called on Congress to approve a referendum on April 15 that would enable elections to the constituent assembly to go ahead. Critics of Mr Correa say he wants to undermine democracy by disbanding the Congress, in which he has no representation. Meanwhile from Vienna it was revealed that Ecuador may rejoin the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, OPEC, sooner than expected. It emerged that Ecuador in fact never officially left the oil cartel. Legal documents show that its membership was suspended, but not halted because oil ministers never formalized Ecuador's departures in 1992". "All they have to due is pay the $4.2m they owe Opec [in unpaid dues]" said OPEC sources in Vienna.