By MERCEDES ALVARO And ROBERT KOZAK
QUITO, Ecuador—Protests Thursday against an overhaul of public-sector worker benefits turned into what Ecuador's President Rafael Correa called an attempt at a coup d'état.
Members of the national police and some military officials walked off the job and closed down the airport in the capital, Quito. Protests quickly spread to other cities, leading to roadblocks, rioting and the closure of banks after several were robbed.
Mr. Correa's government declared a state of emergency for five days, mobilizing the armed forces. Mr. Correa, a U.S.-trained economist, went to a police hospital after being affected by tear gas when he was at a military barracks trying to quell the unrest early in the morning. His office said he wasn't able to leave the hospital due to police protesters surrounding the building.
Mr. Correa and his cabinet ministers said the protests were an attempt by the opposition to destabilize his government, and blamed "insubordinate" members of the police and the military.
"We aren't going to let the constitutional order be broken. Nothing is going to stop the citizen revolution," said Mr. Correa, who has moved Ecuador to the left of the political spectrum since taking office in 2007.
Mr. Correa also blamed the unrest on former President Lucio Gutierrez, who came in second in the 2009 election, which Mr. Correa called to gain another mandate following the approval of a new constitution his government pushed through.
Various nations expressed support for Mr. Correa on Thursday, including Spain, Argentina, Chile, Peru and the Ecuadorean leader's close ally, Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez, who telephoned Mr. Correa to lend support. Peru's President Alan García said he was closing the border with Ecuador, while Chilean President Sebastián Piñera called for a meeting of the Unasur regional economic and political bloc to discuss the situation.
The Organization of American States held an extraordinary session to discuss the events in Ecuador.
Mr. Correa has been facing increased political pressure because of poor public-sector finances and weakening public support. He has been pushing through legislation recently instead of relying on Congressional approval, which has weakened his approval ratings, though he still remains personally popular.
On Thursday, Mr. Correa said he was seriously considering dissolving Congress, which he has the right to do when he considers that the legislature has ceased to function.
That would mean, however, that he would have to call new elections for both Congress and for his job as president of the republic.
"President Correa's uncompromising style, and today's press statements, suggest the president will not easily back down from what is turning into the most serious political crisis of his mandate," said Goldman Sachs economist Alberto Ramos in a research note.
Ecuador has been plagued by political instability for years; no president has finished a full term in office since 1996. A number of presidents since then have been pushed out following popular unrest in the streets.
Mr. Correa's term ends in 2013, but he can run again for a new four-year term then.
Write to Mercedes Alvaro at firstname.lastname@example.org