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Archive for Thursday, April 21, 2005

Ecuador’s lawmakers oust embattled president

April 21, 2005

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— Lawmakers in Ecuador voted Wednesday to remove embattled President Lucio Gutierrez from office after a week of escalating street protests demanding his ouster, and they swore in Vice President Alfredo Palacio to replace him.

In Brazil, that country's Foreign Ministry said in a statement Wednesday night that Gutierrez, a close U.S. ally, was in the Brazilian Embassy in Quito and has asked for political asylum. The statement said the Brazilian government was taking steps to grant asylum.

Hours earlier, an unidentified army officer in combat gear said on television that Gutierrez and his wife, Congresswoman Ximena Bohorquez, had left the presidential palace. An Associated Press photographer saw a small helicopter land briefly on the palace roof and a figure climb aboard.

The protests were fueled by allegations that Gutierrez meddled with the courts in a move to amass power. Demonstrations surged over the past week, and late Tuesday night 30,000 marched on the palace, demanding Gutierrez's ouster.

The rapid events were only the latest in a long history of political instability in Ecuador, where two other presidents have been forced from office since 1997. Gutierrez himself led the rebellion that toppled President Jamil Mahuad in 2000.

Gutierrez was elected two years later on a populist, anti-corruption platform. But his left-leaning constituency soon fell apart after he instituted austerity measures, including cuts in food subsidies and cooking fuel, to satisfy international lenders.

Opponents have accused him of trying to consolidate power from all branches of government. On Friday Gutierrez dissolved the Supreme Court in a bid to placate protests after his congressional allies in December fired most of the court's judges and named replacements sympathetic to his government. That move was widely viewed as unconstitutional.

Acting Atty. Gen. Cecilia Armas issued an arrest order for Gutierrez for his alleged role in violently suppressing recent protests across Ecuador, a Colorado-size, oil-rich Andean nation of 12.5 million inhabitants on the northwest shoulder of South America.

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