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Thursday, January 25, 2007

Ecuador's defence minister dies in crash

Thursday Jan 25


Ecuador's first female defence minister was killed on Wednesday after only nine days in office in a mid-air collision of two helicopters, government and military officials said.

The accident in the Andean nation further rocks the leftist government of President Rafael Correa, who has clashed with Congress over his executive powers and prompted street protests since taking office along with his ministers on January 15.

Minister Guadalupe Larriva, a former teacher and senior official of a socialist political party supporting Correa, died in the crash in a Pacific coastal province east of Quito, presidential spokeswoman Monica Chuji said.

Correa wanted Larriva, one of only a few civilians to lead Ecuador's 176-year-old military, to control an institution that has played a part in the ouster of three presidents in the last decade by publicly withdrawing its support as street protests erupted.

Larriva, one of the most popular members of the Cabinet, had promised to strengthen presidential control of military ranks, improve salaries for the armed forces and make the promotions system more transparent.

US firemen stationed at an air base at the port city of Manta rushed to the scene of the crash, a US embassy spokesman said.

Correa was flying from the southern port city of Guayaquil to the area of the crash, according to a local television station.

Correa asked the country to "pray for the soul of Guadalupe, her daughter, her family and the government of Ecuador".

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