President thanks loyalist forces after dramatic rescue
Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa has thanked supporters and loyalist forces after his dramatic rescue from a hospital that had been besieged by disaffected police.
President Rafael Correa thanked crowds of supporters who gathered outside the presidential palace on Thursday evening, after troops put an end to a police rebellion that had plunged the country into chaos and seen the Ecuadorean president trapped in a hospital for several hours.
Around 9pm on Thursday commando forces loyal to the president used live ammunition and stun grenades to make their way into the hospital, where Correa was taken after an attempt to calm militant police broke down and he was tear-gassed.
“Two police officers died at the hospital as a result of the confrontation between police and commandos,” Fernando Gandarillas, a spokesperson for the Red Cross told France24.com by phone. He added that 88 people had been treated for injuries across the country, most of them in the capital of Quito, where the dramatic events unfolded.
“The police hospital and the surrounding area are now calm, but the Red Cross remains on alert for any other violent activity in the country,” Gandarillas said.
Some police and military units took to the streets of Ecuador’s largest cities on Thursday, protesting against proposed reforms to cut their benefits and freeze promotions. About 150 soldiers seized a runway and grounded flights at the capital's international airport.
As calm returned to Quito overnight, the left-leaning president appeared on the balcony of the presidential palace to thank the security forces that had remained loyal to him, as well as the international community that had offered support to his government.
“This will serve as an example for those who want to stop the revolution not through the ballot box but with weapons,” Correa told the crowd, as he likened the day’s events to a plot to overthrow him.
“There were lots of infiltrators, dressed as civilians and we know where they were from,” shouted Correa, adding that “there will be no pardon.”
Coup attempt or disgruntled police?
Ecuador is one of Latin American’s most politically unstable countries. Popular and military insurrections saw Correa’s three predecessors overthrown before the end of their presidential terms.
Earlier in the day the military’s high command voiced its support of Correa. General Ernesto Gonzales told Ecuadorian television that troops would defend the constitution, “in which president Correa is the maximum authority of the three military branches.”
The powerful indigenous movement and other important political activist groups also publicly backed the president, echoing the government’s claim that the police insurrection was in fact a coup attempt orchestrated by the opposition.
But Ecuadorian private media called attention to what they said was an unwarranted order by the government on Thursday to switch their broadcasts to the state-backed television and radio signals. The leading El Comercio daily headlined “The coup version of the events finds success.”
Speaking of the renegade police, Correa told reporters that “they had been misled by rumors, in a psychological war being waged by the Gutierrez brothers.” Lucio Gutierrez, a former army colonel, served as Ecuador’s president from 2003 to 2005, after he helped topple the government of former president Jamil Mahuad.
Gutierrez was himself prematurely ousted from the presidential palace, and despite wide speculation of graft during his mandate, he and his brother have remained influential political figures.
The commander of Ecuador's police force resigned in the wake of this latest political crisis, a police spokesman said Friday.