BY JIM WYSS AND FRANCES ROBLES
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Ecuador declared a state of emergency as protesting policemen shutdown the international airport, burned tires in the street and sent President Rafael Correa to the hospital after he was overcome by tear gas.
Speaking to the Telesur network from his hospital room, Correa said police were trying to break into his room.
``The worst that can happen is that they kill me, and that's a price I'm willing to pay to make sure these types of barbarities never happen again,'' he said before quoting lines from poet Pablo Neruda. ``They can cut down the flowers, but they can't stop the spring.''
Correa said the rebellious policeman were working with ``conspirators'' in congress to overthrow him.
Security Minister Miguel Carvajal said the armed forces were backing the government and he said the vast majority of the police were still loyal to the president.
As hundreds of supporters gathered in front of the presidential palace, foreign minister Ricardo Patiño told the group to head to the police hospital to defend the president.
``You are the only guarantee that this attempted coup does not happen,'' he said. ``Let's all go together and rescue the president of all Ecuadoreans.''
Local news media said police were trying to keep the marchers from making their way to the building.
The Organization of American States has called an emergency session to deal with the crisis.
Police took to the streets Thursday after congress passed a law Wednesday that might affect their bonuses. Security Minister Carvajal tried to reassure the military and the police saying the new law would not impact their salaries.
Local media said the police swarmed the Mariscal Sucre international airport in the capital of Quito and burned tires. There were reports of looting in the capital and the coastal city of Guayaquil.
A group of police officers later urged officers to return to their patrols and concentrate their protests at their respective stations.
``We are ready to cover the needs of the citizenry,'' an unnamed police officer said at a press conference aired on Venezuelan TV. ``Citizens: we are not against you. Nor are we against the president. On the contrary: we are with you. We urge you to rescind this decree.''
Legislator María Agusta Calle told CNN en Español that right wing forces led by former President Lucio Gutiérrez were behind the protest. The police, she said, had misinterpreted the new law which offers many increases in benefits but seeks to shield the government from the economic burden caused by promotions.
``Since he was elected president, forces have been trying to remove him,'' Calle said. ``Today they had a bit of results, but they will not reach their objective.''
Earlier in the day, when Correa went to confront one group of police, he was shouted down and tear-gassed, local media said. Images on Telesur showed Correa -- who was on crutches due to knee surgery last week -- being shoved around as he wore a gas mask.
He defiantly told the crowd, ``If you want to kill me, Here I am!''
Correa -- a populist and ally of Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez -- has been wrestling with an unruly congress and growing opposition to his government. Last month, former journalist Carlos Vera began collecting signatures to force his recall.
On his Twitter account, Chavez came out in Correa's defense.
``They are trying to topple president Correa. Be on alert countries of the Bolivarian Alliance!!'' he wrote. ``Long live Correa!!''
Correa has suggested he will dissolve congress and rule by decree until new elections can be called.
The small Andean nation -- best known for its banana exports and the Galapagos islands -- has a history of political unrest. From 1997 to 2005, three Ecuadorean presidents were either overthrown or impeached.
``These types of actions today correspond to our past,'' Vice President Lenin Moreno said on Ecuadorean television. ``This is not a sign of the present.''