Ecuador in turmoil as Supreme Court is dissolved

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The Independent US

Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians took to the streets over the weekend in an uprising against their President, former army colonel Luis Gutierrez, accusing him of assuming more dictatorial powers in a bid to stay in office.

Tens of thousands of Ecuadorians took to the streets over the weekend in an uprising against their President, former army colonel Luis Gutierrez, accusing him of assuming more dictatorial powers in a bid to stay in office.

In Quito, the capital, convoys of cars bearing Ecuadorian flags paraded through the streets on Saturday night with horns honking, with similar protests promised for last night. Thousands of citizens also gathered across the city, banging pots and pieces of wood and waving rolls of toilet paper, a symbol of their desire to clean up the "mess" of the Gutierrez presidency.

The crisis, which has been fomenting for months but became critical only a few days ago, has taken on the quality of a Latin American uniformed farce. President Gutierrez first imposed a state of emergency in Quito - banning street protests and large political gatherings - then retracted it when the entire panoply of Ecuadorian political parties, along with the military brass and the US government, told him he had gone too far.

At the root of the crisis is a decision, taken by the Ecuadorian Congress at the President's prompting, to replace the Supreme Court last December. The new court promptly quashed all outstanding corruption charges against two former presidents, whose support Mr Gutierrez needed to maintain a slim majority in Congress.

The two, both accused of looting the country for personal gain, returned from exile in Panama this month, provoking fury in the opposition and on the streets.

But until a few days ago, it looked as if the President could weather the crisis. A general strike called in Quito and other cities last Wednesday was half-hearted, and much of the country appeared more resigned than angry.

His mistake was to appear on television on Thursday night, surrounded by his generals, and announce the state of emergency. Demonstrators in Quito promptly defied his orders, and the army decided not to intervene. He also announced he was dismissing the new Supreme Court, which opponents said he had no constitutional right to do.

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