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Last Updated: Thursday, 21 April, 2005, 07:45 GMT 08:45 UK
Ex-Ecuador president seeks asylum
Lucio Gutierrez
Opponents accused Gutierrez of acting like a dictator
Former Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez has taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy and sought asylum, after being ousted on Wednesday.

The country's new President, Alfredo Palacio, has ordered his arrest.

Mr Gutierrez was removed by a unanimous vote in Congress, following a week of escalating protests.

He came to power as a populist left-winger in 2002, but lost the backing of many supporters by implementing free-market policies.

The latest unrest was sparked by Mr Gutierrez's attempts to replace Supreme Court judges, in what critics viewed as an effort to consolidate power.

Ecuador has a history of political instability. It has had seven presidents since 1996 - three of them, including Mr Gutierrez, were forced out of office.

Borders closed

Shortly after the parliamentary vote on Wednesday, newly sworn-in President Palacio appeared on a balcony at the Congress building.

"The arrogance has ended. The dictatorship has ended," he told the crowd.

ALFREDO PALACIO
Alfredo Palacio
66-year-old cardiologist
Formerly Gutierrez's vice-president
Says oil money used to pay debt should be redirected at Ecuador's social problems

Mr Gutierrez's arrest has been ordered over the violent crackdown on the demonstrations, in which at least one person was killed.

The army has closed the airport in the capital, Quito, while President Palacio has ordered Ecuador's borders to be sealed.

The Brazilian embassy in the Ecuadorian capital says Mr Gutierrez has sought refuge there.

An embassy spokesman, Jose Fuiza, told the BBC that the former president feared for his safety and that his request for asylum was being considered by the Brazilian government.

"We are giving ex-President Gutierrez diplomatic protection until we have a final decision on that," Mr Fuiza said.

BBC regional analyst Simon Watts says the downfall of Lucio Gutierrez is the latest episode in a battle in Latin America between left-leaning presidents and the traditional elites that oppose them.

Mr Gutierrez was originally elected on a populist, anti-corruption platform.

He forged close links with the powerful indigenous movement.

But, faced with economic difficulties, the president opted to follow the recommendations of the International Monetary Fund.

That lost him the support of his indigenous allies and his political weakness encouraged Ecuador's traditional parties to try to get rid of him.

Critics of the former president always dominated the Supreme Court, which led to Mr Gutierrez's attempt to overhaul it.

But this appeared to violate the constitution in doing so.




BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
See the street protests in Ecuador




SEE ALSO:
Ecuador Congress sacks president
20 Apr 05 |  Americas
Ecuador's Congress sacks judges
18 Apr 05 |  Americas
Ecuador lifts state of emergency
17 Apr 05 |  Americas
Ecuador political crisis deepens
16 Apr 05 |  Americas
US offers to ease Ecuador crisis
08 Apr 05 |  Americas
Ecuador minister quits over court
22 Feb 05 |  Americas


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