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Ecuador 'coup attempt' draws attention to Rafael Correa's presidency

October 4, 2010 | 10:04 am

Rafael correa

What happened in Ecuador last week? On Thursday images ricocheted across the world of President Rafael Correa stumbling through a storm of tear gas and violent police officers, after he had stood at a window in a barracks and defiantly told them: "If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill him, if you want to! Kill him if you are brave enough!" (Here's a short clip.)

By nightfall, a spectacular military operation at a police hospital freed Correa, who had claimed that his government was victim of an "attempted coup." In the span of the violent day, five people reportedly died.

Dramatic stuff. Yet in some ways, a spontaneous revolt against some of Correa's recent policy decisions wasn't too surprising, the BBC reports. "Correa can't act as a victim right now and say there's been a coup attempt," Lourdes Tiban, an opposition politician, told the news organization. "There's been no coup attempt whatsoever. What's happening now is his responsibility, he's calling for a confrontation."

Ecuador's armed forces remained loyal to the president throughout last week's chaos, and indeed, no figure or group has come forward to claim responsibility for igniting violence with the intent of toppling the government.

The rebel police who roughed up their president in Quito on Thursday were protesting Correa-backed austerity measures that would have seen their benefits substantially curtailed. In recent months, Correa had also threatened to dissolve Congress and rule by decree because of persistent deadlock on his proposed reforms. Ecuador is severely strapped for cash, and has defaulted in $3.2 billion in global bonds.

Yet at a news conference he held shortly after addressing his supporters from the Palacio de Carondelet, the presidential palace, Correa blamed the police uprising on allies of his chief political foe, the most recent former president, Lucio Gutierrez. Correa's government repeated the claim on Sunday. (Incidentally, Gutierrez also ruled during a period of political instability that saw massive protests against him, forcing Gutierrez to eventually seek asylum in Brazil.)

As volatile as some of that might sound, oil-exporting Ecuador has seen relative stability under Correa. He was elected in late 2006 and, in 2009, became the first Ecuadorean president to be reelected in 30 years.

On Friday, after the violence, Correa's government suggested it would back off the idea of dissolving Congress and revisit the austerity measures that sparked the police revolt. The president, his profile raised considerably with those dramatic images from Thursday, may attempt to use the police revolt as a political weapon to help consolidate power.

Meanwhile, the chief of the national police resigned on Friday, and three commanding colonels are under investigation for possibly inciting last week's violence. For more, Reuters has a fact-box with key political risks to watch as developments unfold in Ecuador.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Ecuador's President Rafael Correa, in his presidential sash, holds a news conference in Quito after a violent police revolt last week. Credit: Reuters