October 6, 2010 / 10:44 PM / in 9 years

Ecuador's Correa rules out shutting Congress for now

QUITO (Reuters) - Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa said on Wednesday he had no immediate plans to try to break his deadlock with Congress by dissolving the legislature, but had not ruled out the option after police protests last week.

Dissolving Congress would allow the leftist leader to rule by decree until new elections. He had been considering the move since before the South American oil-producing country was rocked last Thursday by violent police protests.

“We do not see any immediate need (to dissolve Congress), but we cannot exclude it either,” Correa told a news conference. “Today, more than ever, the possibility is distant, but we do not exclude it in the future.”

In a telephone call to Correa, President Barack Obama reaffirmed U.S. support for him and “underscored the importance of resolving any tensions in Ecuador in the context of the country’s democratic and constitutional order,” the White House said.

Renegade police burnt tires in the streets last week to show their anger over a new law curtailing bonuses and benefits for public employees.

Correa went to police headquarters to address the protesters and was tear-gassed and roughed up by the officers.

The president sought refuge in a nearby hospital. Angry police surrounded the hospital and placed sharpshooters on the roof. Correa was held there against his will until late on Thursday when army commandos stormed the building and rescued him in a hail of gunfire.

Forty-six Ecuadorean police have been arrested and are under investigation for what authorities said was their role in the unrest.

The Andean country is in an official state of alert until Friday. The government replaced the police who usually provide security at Congress with army troops. Correa called Thursday’s unrest a coup attempt orchestrated by his foes.

The president has majority support in the 124-member Congress. But his agenda there has been slowed by disagreements in his coalition over bills including proposals to reform state finances and the higher education system.

Correa’s popularity rose 5 percentage points to 58 percent after last week’s violence, according to a survey released on Tuesday by Cedatos-Gallup. But only half those polled agreed with the government that the protests amounted to an attempted coup.

The president, a U.S.-trained economist, was first elected in 2006 promising a “citizens’ revolution” aimed at increasing state control of Ecuador’s natural resources and fighting the country’s traditional political parties.

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