At least two people were killed and dozens wounded late Thursday when Ecuadorean soldiers stormed a hospital and rescued President Rafael Correa, who had been trapped most of the day by rebellious police.
REUTERS - Ecuadorean troops stormed a hospital in Quito late on Thursday and rescued President Rafael Correa, who had been trapped inside for hours by renegade police protesting government austerity measures.
Dissident police had earlier attacked Correa in a wild day of protests over proposed cuts to their bonuses and a freezing of promotions. Correa was forced to take refuge in the hospital, where he accused opponents of trying to topple him in a coup.
The standoff finally ended when troops stormed the building and Correa was driven to safety amid a blaze of gunfire.
The 47-year-old leftist leader returned triumphantly to his presidential palace where crowds of supporters cheered and waved national flags.
“What loyalty, what support,” an emotional Correa shouted from the balcony to loud applause. “This will serve as an example for those who want to stop the revolution not through the ballot box but with weapons.”
The U.S.-trained economist and close ally of Venezuela’s socialist firebrand Hugo Chavez took power in 2007, alienating foreign investors but winning approval ratings with populist policies like greater state control over natural resources.
Correa has steadily accumulated more power but Thursday’s chaos was a stark reminder of this OPEC nation’s volatile history of economic crises, street protests and coups.
In jubilant scenes at the palace on Thursday night, Correa said he had no words to thank his supporters and was relieved not to have buckled to pressure like some of his predecessors.
“We never gave in, we never agreed to negotiate anything. Under pressure, nothing,” he said.
He said one police officer was killed in the operation to rescue him. “Believe me that when I was freed and they told me that there was at least one policeman fallen, I cried, not out of fear, but sadness.”
One member of the security forces lay in the street outside the hospital, apparently wounded, as Correa was being rescued while soldiers with shields ran over to help him and a voice called out over a loudspeaker: “Don’t shoot! Don’t Shoot!”
Witnesses said shooting continued at the hopital after the president had been rushed to safety in a convoy.
The United Nations and governments across the Americas had earlier thrown their support behind Correa, with the White House backing him and calling for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.
Global oil prices rose to a seven-week high of near $80 a barrel, partly due to the turmoil in OPEC’s smallest member.
Date created : 2010-10-01