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The BBC's Jeremy McDermott
"The president must have heaved a huge sigh of relief"
 real 28k

Sunday, 9 January, 2000, 05:20 GMT
Ecuador army backs president

Quito protester Protesters took to the streets of the capital, Quito, last week

Ecuador's military has thrown its full support behind embattled President Jamil Mahuad, ruling out rumours of a coup.

A statement after a seven-hour meeting of senior officers on Saturday said the army rejected "any attempt to disrupt the rule of law".

It called for a "constitutional and democratic" solution to the country's deepening political and economic crisis.

The armed forces reaffirm that they will fulfill their constitutional duty of defending the rule of law
Army statement

Local media had presented the meeting as a debate on whether to forcibly remove President Mahuad from office or support him in the face of a nationwide movement to oust him.

Separately, Defence Minister Jose Gallardo said the armed forces "fully" supported Mr Mahuad.

"Naturally, as long as he is president, he will have the backing of the armed forces," he told reporters.

State of emergency

After the meeting the high command went to the government palace to show its backing for the elected government, military sources said.

Mr Mahuad - who declared a state of emergency last Thursday to deal with unrest - faces renewed protests later this month. Opposition groups, including Ecuador's powerful oil workers, blame him for the country's parlous economic state and the collapse of the banking system.

President Mahuad Mr Mahuad is under pressure to fix the ailing economy

A BBC correspondent in the region says the president has little chance of sitting out the protests without the active support of the armed forces.

However, political commentators say the president faces other severe tests, with seven provinces voting this month in referendums on greater autonomy, and the ending in March of a moratorium on withdrawing bank deposits.

Ecuador is struggling through its worst financial crisis since the 1920s. Last year, the economy shrank 7% and inflation topped 60%.

The currency has plunged to 23,000 sucres to the dollar from 7,000 sucres a year ago.

President Mahuad, who took office in August 1998, has said repeatedly that he plans to serve out his term, which ends in January 2003.

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See also:
06 Jan 00 |  Americas
Protesters defy state of emergency
12 Jul 99 |  Americas
Ecuador: President bows to strikers
06 Jul 99 |  Americas
State of emergency declared in Ecuador
12 Mar 99 |  Americas
Ecuador faces tough medicine
10 Mar 99 |  Americas
Ecuador protesters clash with police

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