Sun, Apr 24, 2005 - Page 7 News List

President waits for exile to Brazil

ABANDONMENTEcuador's Congress voted to remove President Lucio Gutierrez from his post, but he is still stuck at the Brazilian ambassador's residence in Quito

AP , Quito, Ecuador

Holed up inside a walled compound besieged by protesters, ousted President Lucio Gutierrez said his removal from office by Congress violated the constitution, as he waited for Ecuador's new government to let him leave for exile in Brazil.

The Organization of American States decided Friday night to send a high-level diplomatic delegation "as soon as possible" to investigate the situation and help "strengthen democracy."

After a meeting in Washington, the OAS announced its plan in a resolution that avoided explicit recognition of the government of newly sworn-in President Alfredo Palacio.

Gutierrez, seeking asylum in the Brazilian ambassador's residence, lashed out at opponents Friday in his first public comments in three days, a recorded statement broadcast on Ecuadorean television that was apparently intended for supporters. He said Wednesday's congressional vote removing him from office was illegal.

"Through an unconstitutional decision, with 62 votes, and without my having abandoned the post, they have taken me out of the presidency," the ex-army colonel said, urging followers to relay his message across the country.

"I think there has to be justice, respect for democracy, the constitution, and I ask you to make these declarations," he said.

More than 200 protesters blocked the gates of the ambassador's residence Friday night, demanding Gutierrez be tried for abuse of power, corruption and the repression of peaceful protests. Waving flags, they chanted: "They won't move us!"

"He's not getting out of here," said Marta Cecilia Puente, 38, who joined the demonstration with her 11-year-old son. "We'll stay until he's arrested."

When the Brazilian ambassador tried to leave, the crowd mobbed his sports-utility vehicle, banging on the hood and shaking the vehicle as riot police tried to keep them back. Unable to drive past, the vehicle slowly reversed back into the compound.

Ecuadorean Foreign Minister Antonio Parra said the government was in the process of arranging safe passage for Gutierrez, but he didn't specify when. He said it was a "very delicate" matter and "there exists no set timeframe for doing it."

Diplomats said the 34-member OAS had for the first time invoked the Inter-American Democratic Charter, which says the group's Permanent Council may arrange visits to analyze such situations and, if needed, "adopt decisions for the preservation of the democratic system and its strengthening."

Congress justified dismissing Gutierrez under a constitutional clause allowing lawmakers to remove a president for "abandonment of the post," even though he was still in the Government Palace issuing orders. Backers of the measure argued since Gutierrez had not faithfully carried out his responsibilities, Congress should declare the presidency vacant. John Maisto, US ambassador to the OAS, told diplomats in Washington the US was concerned.

"We deplore the deterioration of constitutionality and democratic institutions in Ecuador that culminated in President Lucio Gutierrez's removal from office," Maisto said.

Many protesters criticized the OAS stance, asking why the organization didn't intervene earlier when Gutierrez -- a US ally -- dissolved the Supreme Court, a move they said was a slide toward dictatorship.

"We want the OAS to listen to the voice of the Ecuadorean people," said Margarita Cazar, a 42-year-old psychologist, waving a flag among the protesters.

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