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Rafael Correa’s plans for sweeping political reform in Ecuador turned violent on Tuesday as hundreds of the leftwing president’s supporters stormed the Congress to demand the legislature approve a proposed referendum on a new constitution.
Security forces responded with tear gas after demonstrators threw bottles and rocks at the building in central Quito, but they were unable to maintain a barricade. Protestors entered the legislature only minutes after lawmakers had been evacuated.
Tensions are high in Ecuador following the election of Mr Correa, an ally of Hugo Chávez, Venezuela’s radical president, who won victory in elections last year on a promise to enact a “citizens’ revolution” and to take on the country’s entrenched political elites.
Mr Correa, who took office as president this month, has asked Congress to approve a referendum to convoke an assembly to rewrite the constitution to break what he calls the “partidocracy”.
Three opposition blocs in Congress have said they will attempt to block the proposal for a constituent assembly. However, although Mr Correa’s party has no deputies in the legislature, his proposal is expected to win the support of a slim majority of lawmakers.
Mr Correa’s opponents accuse him of fostering an atmosphere of confrontation. Jorge Cevallos, the president of Congress, said last week that the president was pushing the country to the brick of chaos and anarchy and accused him of emulating Mr Chávez. “Congress has to denounce this disrespect to democracy,” Mr Cevallos said.
Mr Correa responded that he would not “allow a dictatorship of political parties” to continue in Ecuador.
The new president’s approval rating stands at 73 per cent, while only 13 per cent of Ecuadoreans approve of Congress, according to an opinion poll conducted this month by Cedatos, a local pollster.
In the same poll, 59 per cent of respondents said the country should convene a constituent assembly without the approval of Congress, while just 9 per cent said the legislature should vote on the issue.
■ The World Trade Organisation on Tuesday upheld a complaint by Ecuador against US duties on its shrimp exports. A WTO panel said the US should “bring its measures into conformity with its obligations under the anti-dumping agreement”. Washington can appeal against the ruling.