Friday, April 22, 2005

Ecuador's ousted leader awaits flight to Brazil

OAS asks new government to explain Gutierrez's removal

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) -- Ecuador's ousted President Lucio Gutierrez was stranded inside the Brazilian ambassador's residence while angry protesters shouted insults outside and Brazil held talks with the country's new government after granting him asylum.

The streets of Quito were mostly calm Friday morning, while a few dozen protesters milled about outside the ambassador's residence and riot police stood guard next to trees festooned with toilet paper.

On Thursday night, about 100 protesters gathered outside, yelling "Coward!" and "Brazil, give back the thief!"

Gutierrez's enemies say he should be tried for abuse of power, corruption and the violent repression of protests that prompted a congressional vote on Wednesday to remove him from office.

Brazilian Ambassador Sergio Florencio Sobrinho said Gutierrez was in the residence waiting for a flight to Brazil. But after a meeting with government officials Thursday night, the ambassador said Ecuador was not yet ready to grant permission for Gutierrez to leave.

Meanwhile, the Organization of American States asked Ecuador's new government to explain how Congress concluded the president needed to be removed from office.

Brazil's decision to grant asylum to Gutierrez provoked outrage among many Ecuadoreans who said he shouldn't be allowed to escape into exile without being held accountable for alleged crimes. Others said they were fed up with politicians in general after seeing their third leader driven from office in eight years.

"People want a total change," said Jose Manjarrez, 63, who complained that members of Congress also have done nothing to ease poverty or fight corruption. "All of them have to go, because all of them are to blame."

Newly sworn-in President Alfredo Palacio, who was vice president under Gutierrez, installed members of a new Cabinet Thursday in an effort to bring stability to the South American country of 12.5 million people. Palacio has promised to hold a referendum and a constitutional assembly to create a new state structure.

Normal traffic returned to the streets after days of street protests that pitted Gutierrez's opponents against his supporters and police firing tear gas. Scores were injured, and at least two deaths were linked to the protests.

Legal experts question lawmakers' move
But security concerns remained. Congress was planning to convene Tuesday in the coastal city of Guayaquil after rioters damaged their temporary meeting hall and attacked two legislators following Palacio's swearing in. Most of the protesters also have demanded Congress be dissolved and a new legislature be chosen.

Gutierrez took office in January 2003 as a populist, anti-corruption reformer, but soon angered many Ecuadoreans by adopting economic austerity measures. Many also were upset by growing accusations of nepotism and corruption in his inner circle.

He dissolved the Supreme Court a week ago in hopes of placating protesters who accused him of stacking the court in his favor, but the move backfired and set off even more massive protests that prompted Wednesday's congressional vote to fire him.

The 34-member OAS planned a session to discuss the situation Friday and has asked Ecuador's representative to explain how Congress justified dismissing Gutierrez under a constitutional clause allowing legislators to remove a president for "abandonment of the post" -- while he was still in the Government Palace issuing orders.

Congressman Ramiro Rivera made the motion, arguing that since Gutierrez had not faithfully carried out the responsibilities of the presidency, Congress should declare it vacant.

Legal experts have said the measure violates the constitution. It avoids a drawn-out impeachment process and is similar to what Congress did in 1997 when it dismissed President Abdala Bucaram for "mental incapacity."

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press.