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Ousted Ecuadorean leader goes into exile

Ousted Ecuadorean president Lucio Gutierrez flew into exile in Brazil on Sunday, four days after being toppled in a popular revolt.

The former army colonel left his refuge at the Brazilian embassy in Quito just before dawn to board a Brazilian Air Force jet with his family.

Protests against his rule continued up until the moment of his departure. Gutierrez, his face hidden by a police balaclava and helmet, was spirited from the embassy in a police van, while an official diplomatic car distracted demonstrators at the front of the building, officials said.

The leftist leader was sped to a military airbase at Quito airport and then by helicopter to Latacunga, about 80km south of the capital, where the Brazilian flight was waiting.

Interior Minister Mauricio Gandara confirmed that Gutierrez had finally been granted safe passage to leave after several days of negotiations. The Brazilian military said the flight was now in Brazilian territory.

Congress ousted Gutierrez — the third Ecuadorean president to be forced out of office in eight years — on Wednesday after months of protests over his dismissal of 27 of the 31 Supreme Court justices in December.

Lawmakers acted and the Ecuadorean military withdrew its support for Gutierrez (48) after he ordered the violent repression of demonstrations, which left at least two dead and scores injured.

The retired colonel played a leading role in a coup that ousted elected president Jamil Mahuad in 2000, had also faced widespread discontent over his decision to apply austerity policies supported by the International Monetary Fund.

Alfredo Palacio was sworn in as new president and Gutierrez took refuge at the Brazilian embassy after angry crowds stopped him flying out of the country. Demonstrators, angry at Brazil’s offer of asylum, picketed Brazil’s embassy in Quito and even attacked the car of ambassador Sergio Florencio.

Police remained on guard outside the ambassador’s residence after Gutierrez had left.

Talks between the new Ecuadorean government and Brazil had dragged on, amid suggestions that the authorities wanted to press charges against the ousted leader.

Gutierrez told a radio station his removal was ”unconstitutional”. The Organisation of American States (OAS), the main regional forum, has sent a mission to Quito and is assessing his removal from office.

The OAS has withheld recognition of the new government. The United States has said it is ready to work with the new authorities, but has also declined to recognise the new government explicitly.

Gandara has said Palacio will serve out the remaining two years of the presidential term and not call early elections.

Gutierrez rose to prominence in January 2000, when his soldiers were ordered to expel tens of thousands of indigenous protesters who opposed the economic policies of then-president Jamil Mahuad.

But Gutierrez let the protesters take over Congress and supported protest leaders in announcing a civilian-military ”government of national salvation”. He subsequently stepped aside and let an army general become the government’s military representative.

Gutierrez won the presidential election in late 2002.

Protests against his rule started last year and grew over his action against the Supreme Court.

Discontent also mounted over the decision to drop corruption charges against former presidents Abdala Bucaram, who governed from 1996 to 1997, and Gustavo Noboa, president from 2000 to 2003.

In April, the Supreme Court allowed the two former leaders, both Gutierrez allies, to return from exile. — Sapa-AFP

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