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Coup Underway in Ecuador

Ecuador Declares State of Emergency Amid 'Coup Attempt'BBC

A state of emergency has been declared in Ecuador after President Rafael Correa accused the opposition and security forces of a coup attempt.

Mr Correa was taken to hospital after being hit by tear gas at a protest. Later reports spoke of fresh violence outside as he was being treated.

Troops also took over the main airport, forcing it to close. Unrest has been reported across the country.

The protesters are angry at a new law that cuts benefits for public servants.

The dramatic events began on Thursday morning, when members of the armed forces and police angry at the austerity measures occupied several barracks and set up road blocks across the country to demand the austerity measures be abandoned by the government.

Television stations showed images of police setting tyres on fire in the streets of Quito, Guayaquil and other cities. The National Assembly building was also occupied.

In a speech to soldiers from Quito's main barracks, President Correa said: "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough.

"If you want to seize the barracks, if you want to leave citizens undefended, if you want to betray the mission of the police force, go ahead. But this government will do what has to be done. This president will not take a step back."

However, Mr Correa was forced to flee the barracks wearing a gas mask shortly afterwards when tear gas was fired by the protesters.

The president was later treated for the effects of the gas at a police hospital, from where he told local media that he had been "attacked".

"They threw tear gas at us. One exploded near my face. It stunned me and my wife for a few seconds, probably minutes," he said. "I had to put on a gas mask and some cowards took it off me so I would suffocate.

"I mean they shot at the president - it's incredible - our security forces, our national police."

"It is a coup attempt led by the opposition and certain sections of the armed forces and the police," he added. "Whatever happens to me I want to express my love for my family and my homeland."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez later said Mr Correa had told him by telephone that he had been "kidnapped" by angry police at the hospital and that they were making demands.

"They are trying to oust President Correa. Wake up the people of the Bolivarian Alliance! Wake up the people of Unasur [Union of South American Nations]! Long live Correa!," he wrote in a message on his Twitter account.

Police later fired tear gas at supporters of the president who tried to break up their protest at the hospital, witnesses told the Reuters news agency.

Meanwhile, about 300 air force personnel and soldiers have taken control of the runway at Quito's Mariscal Sucre International Airport, causing flights to be grounded.

The protesters were carrying signs demanding the government give more respect to the military over benefits, witnesses said.

The US embassy said Guayaquil's airport was also closed and warned US citizens to "stay in their homes or current location, if safe".

Despite the unrest, the head of Armed Forces Joint Command, Gen Luis Ernesto Gonzalez Villarreal, said the troops remained loyal.

"We live in a state which is governed by laws, and we are subordinate to the highest authority which is the president of the republic," he said.

"We will take whatever appropriate action the government decides on."

The country's central bank chief, Diego Borja, meanwhile urged its citizens not to withdraw money from the country's banks amid reports of looting. Many schools and business were also closed because of the unrest.

One BBC News website reader in Guayaquil said three of the city's banks had been robbed, and described Ecuador as a "disaster zone".

"We don't know what will happen," he said. "There are no law enforcement agencies working. You can't go out in the streets."

Peruvian President Alan Garcia later ordered his nation's border with Ecuador closed until Mr Correa's "democratic authority" is re-established.

The US state department said it was "closely monitoring" the situation. The European Union's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, called for calm and expressed support for Ecuador's government.

Members of Mr Correa's left-wing party have threatened to block proposals to shrink the country's bureaucracy, prompting him to consider disbanding Congress and ruling by decree until new elections.

Such a move would have to be approved by the Constitutional Court.

Ecuador has a history of political instability. Protests toppled three presidents during economic turmoil in the decade before Mr Correa, a 47-year-old US-trained economist, took power in 2007.