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, March 14, 2007

Violence in Ecuador heats up Congress-Correa feud

By Alonso Soto, March 14, 2007.

QUITO (Reuters) - Ousted Ecuadorean lawmakers scuffled with police and a shooting wounded two of their supporters on Tuesday, worsening discord between Congress and President Rafael Correa in the volatile Andean nation.

About 20 lawmakers barged through a cordon of police, who used riot shields to try to stop them from entering Congress, as tear gas billowed in the air. One legislator was carried away on a stretcher after he was knocked to the ground and injured.

Two congressional aides were lightly wounded by gunshots. Lawmakers said their supporters were targeted by unknown gunmen on motorcycles, but police said the two men had been hit by stray bullets from an unrelated robbery.

Dozens of Correa supporters had earlier traded kicks and punches with protesters backing the dismissed lawmakers.

"We are in a state of emergency and we are being hunted," fired legislator Gloria Gallardo told a television station from inside Congress. "Police are willing to kill lawmakers."

In a radio interview before the shooting, Correa urged his supporters to avoid violence. "Do not let yourselves be provoked by these people who are trying to cause chaos," he said.

The leftist economist, an ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, has demanded that the fired lawmakers be replaced by substitutes from the same parties, in a move that could boost his clout over an unruly and widely unpopular Congress.

Fifty-seven legislators have refused to accept an electoral court decision that fired them last week. They had sought to reverse an earlier ruling that would allow the highly popular Correa to hold a referendum to weaken Congress' powers.

Changes proposed by the referendum are meant to lessen political influence in the judiciary and force lawmakers to live in the small constituencies they represent.

Tuesday's violence forced Congress to suspend sessions for a week.

The dispute has become the biggest challenge to the leftist's presidency since he took office in January in a country where Congress played a pivotal role in ousting three presidents in the last decade.

Investors, already spooked because Correa has threatened to skip some foreign debt payments, worry that the president will struggle to govern despite his high popularity.

"The escalating political confrontation carries the risk of further erosion of the institutional backbone of the country, which could exacerbate perennial weak governability conditions," senior Goldman Sachs economist Alberto Ramos said in a research note.

Ecuador is the world's top banana exporter and South America's No. 5 oil producer.

(Additional reporting by Alexandra Valencia and Guillermo Granja)

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