The people of Ecuador are rising up to refound their country as a pluri-national homeland for all. This inspiring movement, with Ecuador's indigenous peoples at its heart, is part of the revolution spreading across the Americas, laying the groundwork for a new, fairer, world. Ecuador Rising aims to bring news and analysis of events unfolding in Ecuador to english speakers.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Ecuador's Police Repel Protesters Storming Congress

By Matthew Walter and Bill Faries

Jan. 30 (Bloomberg) -- Ecuadorean police used tear gas to repel a crowd that tried to storm congress to demand lawmakers approve President Rafael Correa's plan for a national assembly to rewrite the nation's constitution.

Police turned back the protesters after they entered the building, then launched tear gas at a crowd waving banners and political flags outside the former central bank building, where congress meets, television station Cablenoticias showed. Inside, lawmakers had been debating whether to hold a referendum on rewriting the constitution.

``We wanted to make a symbolic occupation of Congress to show that the space is ours and the constitutional assembly should be there,'' said Vladimir Paguaj, 27, a law student holding the red flag of Ecuador's Communist Party. ``We want a Bolivarian socialist country integrated with all of Latin America,'' Paguaj added, using a term favored by Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

Correa, who took office Jan. 15, campaigned on a promise to hold a national referendum on whether Ecuador should draft a new constitution to implement socialist economic and political policies. In a speech last weekend, he rebuked congress and the country's national electoral court for not supporting a national vote on the constitutional assembly, saying that Ecuadoreans should be given the right to decide.

``As of now congress has suspended its session,'' said Edison Guevara Estrella, a congressional spokesman, in a phone interview. Elsewhere demonstrators marched down Quito's Rio Amazonas Avenue, one of the city's main thoroughfares, blocking southbound traffic.

Few Allies

About 5,000 people participated in today's march, and 487 police responded, Colonel Edgar Roy Pino, commander of the metropolitan district police, said. The communications office of the national police said that as of 1:30 p.m. New York time, three policemen and one journalist had been injured, and one demonstrator had been arrested. Protestors threw eggs and stones at the police, who responded with tear gas, he said in an interview outside the central bank building in Quito.

Correa, 43, a U.S.-trained economist who served a five- month stint as finance minister in 2005, won 57 percent of the vote in a Nov. 26 run-off election. Without the backing of an established political party, the new president has few allies in Congress to carry out his proposals.

``Correa will have to decide between negotiating with Congress or pressing his demands through social action,'' said Mark Schneider, vice president of the International Crisis Group, a policy research organization in Washington, DC.

`Political Upheaval'

Correa's push for a constitutional assembly resembles steps taken by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who helped rewrite his country's constitution after he took office in 1999. Chavez attended Correa's Jan. 15 inauguration, along with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Brazil's Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, and Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega.

Ecuador has had eight presidents in ten years and 68 percent of the country's 13.3 million citizens live in poverty, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development. Correa has said he may default on part of the country's $11 billion in debt to increase government spending on social programs.

``Ecuador has gone through an enormous amount of instability and political upheaval,'' Schneider said. ``The country has vast needs that will require collaboration on all sides,'' he added.

To contact the reporter on this story: Matthew Walter in Quito at ; Bill Faries in New York at .

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