Ecuador, 1st October 2010: President Rafael Correa who was being treated at a hospital after being hit by tear gas in a confrontation left the clinic with an army escort who opened fire on police as angry officers protested at benefit cuts.
Correa later appeared on the balcony of the presidential palace where he thanked thousands of cheering supporters saying he had just lived through the saddest day of his rule. The violence that eventually led to his capture came after a day of unrest in Equador was described as an attempted coup. Mr. Correa was reportedly smuggled out of the hospital in a wheelchair as a gun battle between troops and police was under way.
There had been reports of unrest across Equador on Thursday after a new law was passed that would cut benefits of public servants which led members of the armed forces and police, angry at the plans to occupy several barracks and set up road blocks across the country. The National Assembly building was also occupied. Reports say at least one police officer died during the gun battle at the hospital with unconfirmed reports of several injuries and that a second army operation against the police is still under way.
TV stations broadcasted images of police setting fire to tyres in the streets of Quito, Guayaquil and other cities, also taking control of Quito’s international airport for several hours. Looting occurred in Guayaquil, Ecuador’s largest city and banks robbed, while schools and businesses closed.
Peru and Columbia closed their borders with Ecuador in solidarity. President Correa tore at his shirt as he made an emotional speech to soldiers saying, “If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him if that is what you want. Kill him, if you are brave enough.” He was forced to flee the barracks moments later wearing a gas mask as tear gas was fired by the protesters.
Mr. Correa received strong support from governments throughout the Americas, with the US and Latin American nations speaking up for him. Within hours of the eruption of violence, the South American regional body UNASUR called an emergency meeting with leaders soon arriving in Buenos Aires, the Argentinean capital, condemning the violence and saying that they would do all they could to support democracy in Ecuador.
The unrest has been blamed on the Patriotic Society Party (PSP), led by Lucio Gutierrez by Mr. Correa who stated that bad elements in the police force would be removed. It has been reported that President Correa had considered disbanding Congress due to members of his Country Alliance threatening to block proposals to shrink the bureaucracy.
Ecuador has a history of political instability with past protests toppling three presidents during economic turmoil. US trained economist Mr. Correa took power in 2007 and was re-elected to a second term in 2009 despite a decision to default on $3.2 billion of global bonds causing widespread financial problems for the government.