Fears as 'El Loco' stands firm

Rival claims to presidency put Ecuador army on alert

Ecuador's President Abdala Bucaram, who encourages the nickname "El Loco" (the madman), was barricaded inside the presidential palace last night after Congress ruled he was "mentally incapacitated".

Thousands of angry demonstrators, including Congressmen led by the newly declared President, Fabian Alarcon, marched on the palace, threatening a confrontation with riot police and troops.

Riot police had earlier used tear gas to prevent anti- Bucaram protesters clambering over barbed wire towards the building on Independence Square. They were demanding that Mr Bucaram step down because of his eccentric behaviour, alleged corruption and turn-round on economic policies. Police said an 18-year-old student, Patricio Uyumbillo, died of unknown causes during the disturbances. Opposition politicians said Mr Uyumbillo's skull had been fractured by a tear-gas canister.

The defence minister, Victor Bayas, a retired army general, declared a state of emergency but, since he formed part of Mr Bucaram's cabinet, the status of his declaration was unclear.

After voting against Mr Bucaram last Thursday night, Congress had sworn in its own Speaker, Mr Alarcon, as interim president until new elections could be held. But Mr Bucaram said he would not recognise" a congressional coup d'etat". To complicate matters, his vice-president, Rosalia Arteaga, also declared herself president, leaving three people claiming to be head of state of the South American nation of 11.7 million people. The Argentine President, Carlos Menem, was quick to support Mr Bucaram, noting that the Ecuadorean Congress's unusual move could set a dangerous precedent in Latin America.

The palace was surrounded by troops. It was not clear which way they would turn. With the country's democracy only 18 years old, the commanders of the armed forces were quick to stress yesterday that they did not want to take over.

"This situation is very serious. There cannot be a power vacuum. There must be a rapid, legal solution. The armed forces are not going to take power," the army commander, General Paco Moncayo, said. Political analysts in Quito, however, said they may have to to resolve the impasse.

Despite Ecuador's relatively recent experiences of military dictatorships, General Moncayo is popular in Ecuador and would be likely to lead the country should the military step in. Mr Bucaram, who took office last August after a clear election victory on a populist platform, accused Congress of staging a conspiracy and an illegal coup against him in its Thursday night vote. The 82-member Congress voted 44-34, with two abstentions and two members absent, that he was "mentally incapacitated".

Despite the "mental incapacity" legal measure, and his nickname, few believe that Mr Bucaram is mad. No one denies his eccentricity. Despite this week's protests, he still has strong support among the poor and the Indians, although that was eroded by January's austerity measures, including a 60 per cent rise in bus fares.

He was a lawyer, with a post-graduate degree in physical education, before being elected mayor of Guayaquil, in the early Eighties. In the present stand-off, he may regret having said in 1985 that the military was a waste of money and "only good for marching in parades".

In a last-minute effort to save his skin on Thursday, he said many of the price rises would be rescinded and that he was sacking key cabinet ministers, including his brother, Adolfo, Minister of Social Welfare.

Congress's move against him may actually boost sympathy for Mr Bucaram among the poor. His eccentricities were widely accepted, even applauded until he reversed his populist policies. Calling himself "the madman" helped him win the election. Many loved it when he recorded his compact disc, Madman in Love, with a cover picture of him in the presidential sash.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect