Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said he is the target of a coup attempt after police and soldiers protesting wage cuts assaulted him Thursday during a demonstration in the capital Quito. The mutinous forces also cut air traffic at the capital’s main airport.
We're faced with a permanent conspiracy, Correa, holed up in a hospital surrounded by demonstrators, said in a telephone interview with Radio Publica after protesters hurled water at him and burnt tires outside the presidential palace. The opposition are behind this attempted coup d'état.
Correa, who was being treated for his injuries, said police pointed guns at him as he tried to dissuade the officers from protesting at a police station. He said he was hurt in the scuffle and had to wear a gas mask when tear gas was fired, to escape further harm. The president said protesters were surrounding the hospital and attempting to break into his room.
The protests plunged Ecuador, which has seen three presidents ousted in the past 13 years, into political turmoil that could destabilize the 47-year-old economist's rule. Opposition to Correa, who took office in 2007, has grown since July when the president pushed through an oil law by decree and ignored congressional objections to his plan to increase the state's control over universities and local budgets.
Correa's claims he's at risk of being ousted may be an attempt to drum up support among his allies, said Andres Ochoa, a researcher at the Washington-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs, said that.
There is no clear leader trying to topple Correa, Ochoa said from Quito. This is a protest gone wrong. It's hard to see who has the upper hand at the moment, but the government has more access to the media so it has the stronger voice.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who spoke with Correa by telephone, stood behind the claims of his ally in the eight- nation Alba political bloc. The people of the Bolivarian Alliance should be on alert, he said in a message posted on his Twitter account.
Argentina, Mexico and Brazil were among other neighbours who expressed concern in response to the government's call for international solidarity. Ecuador's security situation has degraded significantly, the U.S. Embassy in Quito said in an alert posted on its website. The embassy urged Americans in Ecuador to stay in their homes and possibly to delay their travel plans.
Ecuador has a history of political turbulence, with 105 presidents in 139 years. Still, Correa has enjoyed greater stability. Last year he became the first president of the Andean nation of 14 million to win two terms in a row. The smallest member of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting countries, Ecuador uses the US dollar as its official currency.
The demonstrators shut down the international airport and looters ransacked banks, supermarkets and shopping malls in the port city of Guayaquil amid a lack of security, CRE Radio reported.
Ecuadorean police and soldiers are objecting to a measure passed by congress last night that would delay automatic promotions and slow salary increases. Correa defended his policies, telling Radio Publica in an interview that salaries had doubled since he came to office in 2007.
Correa has anchored his popularity with public spending programs and appeals to lower-income voters' resentment of banks and the country's elite.
Here I am. If they want to kill me, go ahead, Correa said as he was being heckled by protesters. I won't back down.
Gen. Luis Ernesto Gonzalez, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the armed forces may patrol the streets to guarantee external and internal security.
All flights into Quito have been cancelled after about 300 members of the armed forces stormed the airport and blocked the airstrip, Luis Galarraga, a spokesman for Quiport, the company that operates the airport, said Thursday in a telephone interview. The protestors remained inside the airport this afternoon, he said.