3 Ecuadorean police colonels under investigation following revolt that left 5 dead

By Gabriela Molina, AP
Saturday, October 2, 2010

3 police colonels investigated in Ecuador revolt

QUITO, Ecuador — Three police colonels were under criminal investigation Saturday for failing to prevent a massive protest by their subordinates against President Rafael Correa that spun out of control, claiming at least five lives.

The three are being investigated for negligence, rebellion and attempted assassination, said Prosecutor Gonzalo Marco Freire.

Ordered arrested on Friday, they were released Saturday on their own recognizance by a judge who barred from leaving the country.

Freire told The Associated Press that the three “should have known what their subordinates were doing.” They are: Quito’s metropolitan police chief, the provincial police commander and the head of the barracks where Correa was roughed up and tear gassed when he went to confront angry police.

Under the state of siege declared during Thursday’s unrest, their 24-hour detention could have been extended indefinitely. The state of siege expires Monday but could be renewed.

Correa contends the daylong revolt by hundreds of police over benefit cuts, which turned violent and ended with him being spirited out of a hospital in a shootout between loyal troops and rebels, amounted to a coup attempt.

However, no one ever stepped forward Thursday to identify themselves as leading the revolt. And, though several hundred soldiers briefly shut down Ecuador’s two main airports, the military high command remained loyal.

In his weekly television address Saturday, Correa said authorities intercepted radio transmission during the insurrection in which “kill Correa, kill the president” is heard. He did not specify who was speaking or exactly when.

Correa said one of the fatalities of Thursday’s violence was a police officer who was escorting the SUV in which the president was spirited out of a hospital where he’d been trapped all day by rebel cops.

Images the government provided of the vehicle on Friday show it was hit by five bullets, four on the hood and one that damaged the windshield.

On Saturday, Correa attended the funeral of a student killed during the rescue mission. He declared himself “destroyed” by the loss of life, though he said he considered the outcome “a political victory for the government.”

Correa, a 47-year-old leftist economist and ally of Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, reiterated during his television address his promise that “there will be neither forgiveness nor forgetting” for Thursday’s events, the most serious and only violent challenge to his nearly 4-year-presidency.

Correa has accused supporters of former President Lucio Gutierrez, a former army colonel who co-led a 2000 coup, of inciting Thursday’s violence. Gutierrez, who is currently in Brazil, has vehemently denied involvement.

His daughter Karina, an army second lieutenant, took part in the operation that rescued Correa, the private TV station Telamazonas reported. It said she e-mailed her father to tell him she was in the thick of the “(tear) gas and the firefights” and knew he would “never put our people’s lives at risk.”

Correa has brought unusual political stability to Ecuador, a traditionally volatile Andean nation of 14 million that saw eight presidents in the decade before he won eleciton in November 2006 election.

Associated Press writer Gonzalo Solano contributed to this report.

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