Ecuador police uprising: 'We came very close to civil war"

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa appears to have overcome his worse political crisis yet after a police uprising on Thursday. Our Observer in Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, witnessed the unrest.


Photo posted on Flickr by Juan Pablo Neira

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa appears to have overcome his worse political crisis yet after a police uprising on Thursday. Our Observer in Quito, the Ecuadorean capital, witnessed the unrest.

The fatal uprising was sparked after President Correa went to Quito's main police station to announce government plans to scrap special police bonuses. Furious, police officers attacked the president, who was forced to flee to a nearby police hospital, where he remained under siege for 17 hours.

Unrest mounted in cities across the country as angry police officers took to the streets, shouting anti-Correa slogans and occasionally clashing with the President's supporters. According to the Red Cross, two police officers were killed when the army launched an assault late Thursday to rescue the President from the hospital that had been besieged by police. 88 more people across the country were injured in the unrest.

Read FRANCE 24's article for more details of the day's events.

Unrest in Quito on Thursday, September 30











All photos sent by our Observer.

Article written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot

"Police were clashing with civilians who were defending the president – it was the world upside down"

Quentin Ceupens is a Belgian journalist living in Quito. He wrote a full account of yesterday's events on his blog.

Things look calm in the streets of Quito this morning, but until late in the night there were still sounds of gunshots and clashes. Visibly, the military appear to have taken control of the situation. I have just seen a police car driven by military troops go by my window, and there are soldiers everywhere.

The situation yesterday was extremely tense - I think we came very close to a civil war. It was the world upside down: national police, using equipment paid for by taxpayer's money, turned their weapons against the president! When hundreds of civilians gathered around the president's besieged hospital, the police began firing tear gas at them, and even fired live rounds in the air.

"Chaos across the country"

Rapidly, with no police available to keep order, the situation degenerated into chaos in cities across the country. At least two banks were robbed and vandalised in Quito, while in Guayaquil rival gangs faced off in violent clashes, with no-one to check them. Roads and railroads across the country have been closed for security reasons, and schools will remain closed until at least Monday.

I saw a long column of 50 military trucks go by my window yesterday evening, on their way to the hospital where the president was held. They launched an assault on the hospital at around 8:30 pm, and were rapidly able to evacuate the president. The renegade police retreated into the building and began shooting at the soldiers from the windows. Clashes went on until late at night, but at least the President was safe and sound.

Correa is a hot-tempered, theatrical president. He demonstrated that clearly when he shouted "Kill me! Kill me if you dare!" from his hospital room window to policemen circling the building. But he benefits from strong popular support: in the radio station that I work for, 85% of calls yesterday were to support the President and denounce the police uprising.

The President has campaigned and government on the theme of a "people's revolution". His argument for scrapping police bonuses was that it was unfair they should have special treatment that other civil servants didn't. But police argue that their work conditions are especially hard and dangerous and that the bonuses are justified.

After he was freed, Correa gave an emotional speech from the balcony of the presidential palace, thanking his supporters and troops loyal to him. He vowed that the renegade police would be brought to justice - but this was a nationwide uprising, not just a handful of angry cops. I think it's not going to be that easy for things to go back to normal."