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Ecuador coup attempt? President Rafael Correa attacked in police revolt.

Ecuador coup attempt? On Thursday, President Rafael Correa was attacked, a state of emergency was declared, and police across the country revolted.

By Staff writer / September 30, 2010

Riot police repel supporters of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa from reaching the hospital where he took refuge for protection from police protesters, in Quito, on Sept. 30. Police protesters attacked Correa in an eruption of political unrest over austerity measures, leaving the leader holed up in an hospital with demonstrators outside.

Guillermo Granja/Reuters

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Ecuador President Rafael Correa was holed up in Quito on Thursday afternoon after being attacked by police angered over changes to their job benefits.

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In the aftermath of that attack, police across the country revolted, a state of emergency was declared, and flights into the country were canceled. While what exactly is going on in the Ecuadorian capital is still being sorted out, some fear the South American nation could be witnessing its second coup in a decade.

“What started as a rebellion over salaries could end in something tragic,” says Ramiro Crespo, president of Analytica Securities in Ecuador.

Mr. Correa, who was only lightly injured, later charged opposition figures, the police, and the military of attempting a coup détat. His leftist ally in Venezuela, President Hugo Chávez, wrote over Twitter: “They are trying to oust President Correa."

The crisis erupted when Correa attempted to enter a police barracks in Quito to mollify officers angry at Wednesday's passage of a law that cut bonus pay and extended the time period for receiving promotions, from five years to seven. The law has not yet been published so is not in effect.

The president was roughed up and sprayed with tear gas, and eventually fled to a hospital. Police officers across the country soon took over their barracks. Highways were blocked by burning tires, schools were shut down, and many businesses closed. Residents of Quito were urged to stay in their homes.

A state of siege has been declared, which means the military is in charge and soldiers can search without warrant.

Correa, who is reportedly unable to leave the hospital, which is surrounded by protesters, said angrily after the attack: "If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill me!"

No political party appears to be leading or supporting a government takeover, causing Mr. Crespo to doubt this will spiral into a coup. But he says it is a cautionary tale, especially for countries in Latin America where institutions tend to be weak. He blames the president for a polarized atmosphere, where people feel there are no checks and balances on presidential power.

“When a country does not have strong institutions, these things can happen at any moment,” he says.

Leaders throughout Latin America, reeling from the ouster of Manuel Zelaya in Honduras last summer, have put their support behind Correa. The Organization of American States (OAS) held a crisis meeting in Washington, and Secretary General José Miguel Insulza pledged the organization's "full support" in a telephone conversation with Correa, according to a statement.

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