Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa was freed by security forces amid gunfire after protesters and police massed around a hospital building in a bid to keep him inside, state television reported.
At least one person died in clashes involving the military and police officers, who are protesting a plan to cut their wages, according to the Telesur network. Correa called the acts against him treason and said police had “stabbed me in the back,” according to remarks broadcast from the presidential palace.
Ecuador had declared a state of emergency after hundreds of police protesting wage cuts blocked roads, shut the airport for several hours and sprayed teargas on Correa.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez backed Correa’s claim that he was the target of an organized coup attempt, even though none of the protesters or members of the opposition have demanded he step down. He and other regional leaders traveled to Buenos Aires for a meeting to show support for the embattled leader.
The president was taken to a hospital after scuffling with the police and was holed up as officers surrounded the facility, refusing to let his personal security forces escort him out of the building. Looters ransacked banks, supermarkets and shopping malls in the port city of Guayaquil, the country’s largest, and 51 people were injured amid the violence, the Red Cross said.
“Here I am. If they want to kill me, go ahead,” Correa said after protesters hurled a tear-gas canister at him and doused him with hot water. “I won’t back down.”
Ecuador, which has defaulted on $3.2 billion of international debt since 2008, has seen three presidents ousted in the past 13 years. Correa, a 47-year-old economist who took office in 2007, brought a modicum of stability to the politically tumultuous nation of 14 million, becoming the first president to win two terms when he won re-election last year.
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