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ASUNCIÓN, Paraguay – On the morning of Sept. 30 about 150 members of the Ecuadoran police and more than one hundred military personnel demonstrated against the new Public Service Law presented by Ecuador's President Rafael Correa. Security forces overtook the Quito International Airport and the National Congress building in support of the protests started by the police.
Members of the country’s security forces took this measure to express their disagreement with Congress’ approval of the Public Service Law.
The legislation, which was presented to Congress on July 2, 2009 by President Rafael Correa, would eliminate salary increases linked to promotions and service decorations for members of the military and police.
The law does not establish specific amounts, but it sets standards of financial equality for all members of public law enforcement agencies.
Gabriel Yazán, a 38 year-old civil aviator in Guayaquil, Ecuador, said Congress intends to put the salaries and benefits of everyone who works in a public institution on the same level.
“I agree with the general objectives of the law, but there are some points that are too general, that don’t discern among the different public servants,” he said.
Police officers first surrounded the congressional building in the nation’s capital, not allowing any official in or out. President Correa went to Quito’s police headquarters the morning of Sept. 30 to try to dissuade the protesters.
But he was attacked with tear gas by rebellious police officers.
Correa, who recently had surgery on his leg, was treated at the Police Hospital for the effects of the tear gas. The hospital is near where protesters were demonstrating, and some of the demonstrators entered the hospital, preventing Correa from leaving.
Correa, through Public Radio of Ecuador, pleaded for citizens to remain calm and said the protests were due to a conspiracy orchestrated by the opposition.
Meanwhile, police officers also demonstrated in the cities of Guayaquil and Cauca where robberies and vandalism were reported.
“Here all the businesses are closed, we are defenseless because we don’t have a public force to defend us and they’re looting everything,” said Víctor Vera Donoso, editor of Guayaquil’s newspaper Súper.
Fernando Alvarado, the presidency’s communications secretary, said Correa met with his advisors from inside the Police Hospital and said he would not succumb to pressure.
“He will not yield on any of the claims made by the police,” Alvarado said. “We hope they put aside their aggressive posture and that everything can be resolved peacefully.”
Correa declared a state of emergency in all of Ecuador for five days at a press conference on the night of Sept. 30.
A state of emergency temporarily suspends Constitutional rights and grants special authority to the Armed Forces so they may suppress any violence.
Sgt. Ramón Mesías, spokesperson for the National Police, said the police should be respected.
“The most important aspect is to maintain the system of decorations for time served and for merits,” he said during a media conference.
Gen. Ernesto González, of the Joint Armed Services Command of Ecuador, said police officers and “certain elements” of the military must stop protesting.
“We [the military forces] will do our duty to enforce the state of emergency,” he said during a media conference.
In Quito, the airport returned to normalcy late in the afternoon on Sept. 30.
Correa issued a statement in which he accused the police of having violated the Constitution as an excuse to reject the law approved by Congress.
“The goal of this illegal action, promoted by groups who want to fracture the order of democracy, is to interrupt a historical process of political, economic and social change that has the undeniable support of the citizens of Ecuador,” the statement said.
After 9:00 p.m., local time, the military rescued Correa from the Police Hospital where shots were exchanged between rebel police officers and military personnel loyal to the government. Five soldiers were injured during a gunfight at the hospital where Correa was rescued, according to officials with the military and Red Cross.
“[It] was the saddest day of my life,” said Correa from the balcony of Carondelet Palace after his rescue.
Irina Cabezas, the vice president of congress, said at least three – two policemen and a soldier – died and dozens were wounded in fights. Gen. Freddy Martínez, the chief of the National Police, resigned as a result of the events, said police spokesman Richard Ramírez.
“We've contacted the presidents of the UNASUR bloc ... to call for a meeting so that support of the democratic countries for the Ecuadoran democracy is strong and clear,” Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said, according to Dow Jones.
Presidents from the region and Europe also expressed their support. UNASUR members met in Buenos Aires, Argentina the evening of Sept. 30 for an emergency meeting to express their backing of Correa. The United States also declared its support. “The U.S. condemns any attempt to violate the democratic process and constitutional order of Ecuador,” Carmen Lomellin, U.S. Envoy to the OAS, said during a meeting, as reported by the Agence France-Presse. “We support the democratic government in Ecuador.”