Ecuador troops rescue president from rebel cops
Friday, October 1, 2010; 1:32 AM
QUITO, Ecuador -- Ecuadorean soldiers firing automatic weapons and concussion grenades rescued President Rafael Correa late Thursday from a hospital where he was trapped most of the day by rebellious police who plunged the country into chaos in a protest over benefit cuts.
At least five soldiers were wounded by gunfire in the 35-minute firefight, the military command said, while the security minister said at least one person was killed and six injured earlier in the day as Correa's supporters clashed with insurgent cops outside the hospital.
Correa, 47, told cheering backers from the balcony of the Carondelet palace after being spirited away from the hospital in an SUV at top speed that the uprising was not a simple police insurrection over pay-related grievances but an attempt to overthrow him.
"There were lots of infiltrators, dressed as civilian and we know where they were from," shouted the U.S.-trained leftist economist. But he did not blame anyone specifically.
Correa said those responsible for the rebellion would be punished.
"There will be no pardon," he said.
Dramatic live images of the rescue broadcast by Ecuadorean TV stations showed one helmeted soldier dressed in black and wearing a flak jacket as he was apparently hit by a bullet and tumbled down a small embankment outside the hospital. The Red Cross said at least one civilian was wounded.
Correa had been trapped for more than 12 hours in the hospital, where he was being treated for a tear-gassing that nearly asphyxiated him when he went to meet with angry police officers. Officers at the barracks also roughed him up and pelted him with water.
Correa expressed thanks from the balcony to all the supporters who went to the hospital "ready to die to defend democracy." They ensured that "our citizen's revolution can't be halted by anyone," he said.
At the hospital, Correa had vowed to leave either "as president or as a corpse."
He also negotiated with some of the insurrectionists, but the outcome of those talks was unclear.
The unrest began when hundreds of police angry over the new civil service law shut down airports, blocking highways in a nationwide strike, prompting citizens to shutter businesses and schools and triggering looting.