Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Ecuador arrests former president

NOT SO FAST Lucio Gutierrez, the exiled former leader who is reviled by many in Ecuador, returned home in a bid to retake power. He was promptly thrown into jail


Security forces surround the pickup truck carrying former Ecuadorian president Lucio Gutierrez on his way to Garcia Moreno Prison in Quito, Ecuador, on Friday.


An exiled former president who was ousted from office returned to Ecuador in a bid to regain power, but he was arrested moments after his plane landed.

About 15 heavily armed police boarded the chartered aircraft when it rolled to a stop in the Pacific coast city of Manta Friday evening after a flight from the Colombian capital, Bogota.

Lucio Gutierrez, who was forced from office in April by Ecuador's Congress, remained calm as he was taken off the aircraft and led to another plane that took him to Quito, where he was transferred to the capital city's main prison.

"I respect the police. This is yet another demonstration that they are violating my rights," he said before boarding the aircraft and taking off for the capital, [260 kilometers] to the northeast. "Unfortunately, with this order, totally illegal, totally unconstitutional, the persecution of an innocent man is evident."

Gutierrez waved to about 200 of his supporters who shouted "Gutierrez, President!" as he was led into the prison in Quito's colonial center. Dozens of police stood guard.

Local media reported that Gutierrez was placed in special, high-security wing, normally reserved for drug lords, and not with the general prison population. Independent confirmation was not immediately available.

"The only thing I demand is that there are all guarantees for his personal safety," Gutierrez's wife, Congresswoman Ximena Bohorquez, told Channel 4 television. "Legally, I will be vigilant so that due process is observed."

After announcing his intention to return to Ecuador earlier this week, the politician was warned by Ecuadorean officials that he would be arrested on a warrant issued by an Ecuadorean court in July.

But he insisted before leaving Colombia that he was unjustly ousted and accused his successor, President Alfredo Palacio, of corruption and fabricating charges against him.

"If they want to arrest me, then let them," Gutierrez said. "I am innocent and I am not a criminal."

Hours before Gutierrez's arrival, police used tear gas to disperse about 500 of his supporters who tried to force their way into the airport, hurling rocks and shouting, "Gutierrez, friend, the people are with you!"

Another 200 of Gutierrez's supporters in Quito marched peacefully to Ecuador's Superior Court of Justice.

In issuing its arrest order, the court said that the ex-president constituted a threat to national security after he accused Palacio of illegally assuming power and insisted that he remains Ecuador's rightful president.

Congress voted the 48-year-old politician out of office five days after he disbanded the country's Supreme Court and declared a state of emergency, sparking massive street protests in the capital. He was the third Ecuadorean president since 1997 forced from power.

Lawmakers said he had abandoned power even though he was still inside the government palace, and appointed Palacio, the elected vice president, to finish Gutierrez's four-year term, which ends in January 2007.

Gutierrez fled Ecuador and spent time in Brazil and Peru before seeking political asylum in Colombia, which was granted political asylum Oct. 4.

Gutierrez was elected president in 2002 after campaigning as a populist, anti-corruption reformer, but he broke with his leftist constituency to implement economic austerity measures to satisfy lenders like the International Monetary Fund.

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