'No pardon' for Ecuador rebels, says President Correa

The BBC's Will Grant explains how the siege unfolded

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Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has said there will be "no pardon or forgiveness" for those involved in a police rebellion against him.

Mr Correa had to be rescued by the army from a hospital in the capital, Quito, after he was trapped there for several hours by disaffected police.

The president was being treated after inhaling tear gas fired by police who were protesting at austerity measures.

Two people died and dozens were injured in the unrest, officials said.

The president and his supporters said the police revolt over a new law cutting benefits for public servants amounted to an attempted coup.

A state of emergency has been declared.

Mr Correa said there would be "a deep cleansing of the national police", and that he would "not forgive nor forget" what had happened.

The commander of Ecuador's police force has since resigned, a police spokesman said on Friday.

South American heads of state held an emergency meeting in Argentina and called for those behind the revolt to be tried and punished.

Analysis

The sight of two key state institutions, the national police force and the military, exchanging gunfire will be one which worries many ordinary Ecuadorians, and reminds them of the past.

Ecuador's history is peppered with violent street uprisings which often ended with the removal of the head of state. In this instance, there was to be no such outcome, but it was a sign of how polarised life in Ecuador has become in recent years, with Mr Correa dividing opinion across the country.

The initial reason for the protests -austerity measures - was almost lost among the high drama of the presidential siege. But that, and other issues such as an impending decision on whether to dissolve parliament and call an early general election, are facing Mr Correa when he recovers from what was, without doubt, his toughest day since taking office.

Mr Correa, a 47-year-old US-trained economist, was elected in 2006 and won a second term in 2009 - despite a decision to default on $3.2bn of global bonds which caused widespread fiscal problems for the government.

'Kill the president'

Mr Correa had to be rescued after the hospital he had been taken to was surrounded by rebel policemen.

Mr Correa was smuggled out of the hospital under cover of darkness as a gun battle raged between troops and the rebels.

He said he had told his captors he would "come out as the president of a worthy country or... as a corpse".

Speaking to his supporters outside the presidential palace later, Mr Correa said he hoped the events of the day would serve "as an example to those who want to bring a change and stop the citizens' revolution without going through the polls".

"I give so much thanks to those heroes who accompanied me through this hard journey," the Reuters news agency reported him saying.

Ecuador's political instability

Map
  • 2005: President Lucio Gutierrez deposed after two years, following massive protests in response to his attempt to overhaul the Supreme Court
  • 2000: Jamil Mahuad, elected 1998, forced to step down as president after two years following indigenous protests led by Col Lucio Gutierrez
  • 1997: President Abdala Bucaram, nicknamed "El Loco" ("the crazy one"), declared mentally unfit to rule after a year in power
  • 1987: President Leon Febres Cordero kidnapped and beaten up by the army in protest at policies of privatisation and public expenditure cuts

"Despite the danger, being surrounded, ministers and politicians came, to die if necessary. With that bravery, with that loyalty, nothing can defeat us."

The drama began on Thursday morning when members of the armed forces and police angry at the austerity measures occupied several barracks and set up road blocks across the country. Police also took control of Quito's international airport for several hours.

In an emotional speech to soldiers from Quito's main barracks, President Correa tore at his shirt and said: "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough."

Moments later he was forced to flee the barracks wearing a gas mask when tear gas was fired by the protesters, and he was taken to hospital.

Mr Correa has blamed the Patriotic Society Party (PSP), led by Lucio Gutierrez, for fomenting the unrest. In a television interview, Mr Gutierrez said the accusation was "totally false".

On Wednesday, one minister had said the president was considering disbanding Congress because members of his Country Alliance had threatened to block proposals to shrink the bureaucracy.

Ecuador's two-year-old constitution allows the president to declare an impasse and rule by decree until new elections. However, such a move would have to be approved by the Constitutional Court.

The BBC's Will Grant, in Venezuela, says Mr Correa could still choose to rule by decree in an effort to stay in control in the immediate future.

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