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Police strike plunges Ecuador into chaos

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa stands with a gas mask on his head during a protest in the capital, Quito, on Thursday. Police were protesting a law that cuts their benefits.

Associated Press

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa stands with a gas mask on his head during a protest in the capital, Quito, on Thursday. Police were protesting a law that cuts their benefits.

QUITO, Ecuador — Soldiers firing concussion grenades and automatic weapons rescued Ecuador's president from a hospital where he had been trapped by rebellious police for more than 12 hours Thursday.

President Rafael Correa appeared on the balcony of the presidential palace shortly afterward and addressed an adoring crowd.

He had been trapped in the hospital where he was treated after being tear-gassed earlier Thursday in a confrontation with hundreds of police angry over a law that would cut their benefits.

In the rescue mission, at least one soldier was seen hit by gunfire and tumbled down a small embankment.

Correa appeared to have been removed in a vehicle by soldiers.

Protesters shut down airports and blocked highways in a nationwide strike.

The nation's security minister said at least one person was dead and six were injured during the protests.

Minister Miguel Carvajal said the death and injuries occurred outside the hospital where Correa, 47, was holed up.

The government declared a state of siege Thursday, which put the military in charge of public order, suspended civil liberties and allowed soldiers to carry out searches without a warrant.

Hundreds of officers involved in the insurrection took over police barracks in Quito, Guayaquil and other cities.

Looting was reported in the capital, where at least two banks were sacked, and in the coastal city of Guayaquil. That city's main newspaper, El Universo, reported attacks on supermarkets and robberies due to the absence of police.

Hundreds of Correa supporters gathered outside the National Assembly, which was occupied by striking police.

The commander of Ecuador's armed forces, Gen. Ernesto Gonzalez, later declared the military's loyalty to Correa in a televised statement.

When Correa confronted the protesters earlier, he was unyielding.

"If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill me!" he told them before limping away as an aide fitted a gas mask over his face.

Police strike plunges Ecuador into chaos 09/30/10 [Last modified: Friday, October 1, 2010 12:18am]
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