Ecuador police colonels accused of coup attempt

By Valeria Pacheco ,AFP

QUITO — Soldiers were on patrol in Ecuador’s main cities Saturday following the arrest of three senior police officers charged with attempting to kill President Rafael Correa during a police mutiny. The officers, all police colonels, were arrested Friday for their role in the gunfire and street clashes Thursday that that killed eight people and left 274 wounded, the prosecutor’s office told AFP. The unrest began in Quito as a protest against cuts to bonus payments linked to seniority, and spread to police stations in five other provinces. “There is calm in the country and calm at police stations,” Interior Minister Gustavo Jalkh told reporters Friday. The head of the national police, General Freddy Martinez, resigned Friday over the incident. Officials did not name the three detained police colonels, but local media identified them as Manuel Rivadeneira, Julio Cesar Cueva and Marcelo Echeverria. In a television interview late Friday, Correa blamed supporters of Lucio Gutierrez — an ex-army colonel who was president 2003-2005 — for the chaos, and said the mutinous police wanted to kill him. “Their strategy to destabilize the government failed, so Plan B was to assassinate the president,” Correa said. Protesting police besieged Correa inside a hospital for some 12 hours on Thursday. The sergeant protecting Corrrea was shot dead moments after soldiers and an elite police unit rescued him from the hospital. During the rescue mutinous police fired five times on his armored car, and also fired on four other cars in entourage, Correa said. The goal was to create chaos leading to violence that would run out of control and provide an excuse for a coup. But the plan failed because the armed forces did not support the police, Correa said. Correa said he was “deeply saddened” by the events and ordered three days of national mourning for the victims. Only 600 police officers out of a force of some 40,000 took part in the uprising, according to Deputy Interior Minister Edwin Jarrin. But sources close to the revolt told AFP at least 2,300 officers had joined the protest. Quito’s international airport and Congress were back to normal after being occupied briefly by the rebel forces, though the country was still under a state of emergency. Correa, 47, a leftist ally of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who has been in office since 2007, was re-elected last year to a second term as president of the country of 14.5 million people that is prone to political upheaval.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telephoned Correa to voice her support for the beleaguered president, and “they agreed to continue to work together to strengthen Ecuadoran institutions and the rule of law,” her spokesman Philip Crowley said. Organization of American States (OAS) Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza also offered his support, and called for the culprits to be punished.