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Last Updated: Sunday, 24 April 2005, 16:32 GMT 17:32 UK
Q&A: Ecuador's latest upheaval
Protesters outside the Brazilian ambassador's residence in Quito
Protesters had tried to stop Lucio Gutierrez leaving Ecuador
Ecuador's deposed President Lucio Gutierrez has left the country for exile in Brazil, four days after violent street protests led to his removal from office by Congress.

His deputy, Alfredo Palacio, has replaced him, becoming the country's seventh president in nine years.

The BBC News website explains these dramatic events and examines Ecuador's future prospects.

Why was Mr Gutierrez ousted?

Mr Gutierrez was seen by many as having betrayed his mandate. He was elected in 2002 on a left-wing, populist platform, promising to tackle social problems.

However, in order to finance the country's large foreign debt, he turned to economic austerity, cutting subsidies on food and cooking oil.

He also spent much of the country's oil revenues servicing debt, and fostered stronger ties with Washington. Corruption continued to thrive.

He may have achieved 6% economic growth in 2004, but Mr Gutierrez's popularity ratings plunged to less than 5%.

After a failed attempt to impeach him in November 2004, Mr Gutierrez turned on the Supreme Court, which was dominated by the opposition Social Christians.

He mustered a slim congressional majority in favour of sacking the judges and replacing them with a new court.

His opponents accused him of acting unconstitutionally, but he secured the backing of the Roldosista Party, led by exiled ex-President Abdala Bucaram.

When the new Supreme Court dropped corruption charges against Mr Bucaram and allowed him to return home, public anger erupted at what was perceived as a deal to exonerate him.

Why does Ecuador matter?

Mr Gutierrez's rise to power appeared to be part of a continent-wide shift to the left, after the electoral victories of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in Brazil and Nestor Kirchner in Argentina.

However, Ecuador's continued instability and the degree of political power wielded by indigenous peoples' groups mean that it also has much in common with Bolivia, where President Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada was brought down in similar circumstances in October 2003.

Indigenous peoples make up four million of Ecuador's population of 13 million.

Economically, Ecuador is an oil exporter - a key factor in its prosperity.

The same issues of economic inequality and control of the country's natural resources are mirrored elsewhere in Latin America and throughout the developing world.

What are the prospects for stability in Ecuador?

President Palacio has promised a referendum on constitutional reform, followed by fresh elections.

The new president has little political experience, apart from two years as health minister a decade ago. He is also seen as allied to two traditional political parties, despite declaring himself an independent.

But whoever ends up in charge will face enormous practical difficulties in trying to govern Ecuador.

The fragmented political system has long favoured gridlock, with at least 13 different parties represented in the 100-seat Congress.

As if to highlight Ecuador's lack of progress, the dismissal of Mr Gutierrez was a virtual re-run of Mr Bucaram's downfall in February 1997.

Both men were driven from office after attempting free-market economic measures and sparking mass protests - although the colourful Mr Bucaram, nicknamed El Loco (the crazy one), was actually sacked on the dubious grounds of mental incompetence.

In fact, until now, every president since Mr Bucaram has faced criminal charges of one sort or another and none has completed a full four-year term.

Mr Bucaram's successor, Fabian Alarcon, was accused of corruption, but declared innocent. Jamil Mahuad was elected in 1998, ousted two years later and charged with abuse of authority.

Mr Mahuad's vice-president, Gustavo Noboa, succeeded him and was also accused of abusing his authority - then came Mr Gutierrez, who is yet to be charged with anything.

In short, Ecuador appears trapped in a cycle that has left successive presidents with little room for political manoeuvre - and crushed them as soon as they tried to reform the system that made them so ineffective.

Country profile: Ecuador
21 Apr 05 |  Country profiles
Ecuador Congress sacks president
20 Apr 05 |  Americas

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