Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Wednesday, 9 July 2008 11:40 UK

Ecuador head defends TV seizures

Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa speaks on 8 July
President Correa said the businesses should be sold off as soon as possible

Ecuador's President Rafael Correa has denied that the government's seizure of two TV stations on Tuesday is an attack on freedom of expression.

Mr Correa said the confiscation of the channels and nearly 200 other businesses was aimed at recovering money owed to the Ecuadorean people.

The firms are part of a business group accused of owing millions of dollars.

Some Ecuadoreans applauded the seizures but others said Mr Correa was trying to gain greater control of the media.

In an early morning raid, officials backed by police, raided the TV stations in Quito and Guayaquil and a host of other businesses ranging from insurance to construction firms.

A banner reading "Freedom of Expression: SOS" hangs from the Gamavision building in Quito
"Freedom of expression: SOS" reads the banner at Gamavision's offices

The seized companies are owned outright or in part by the Isaias Group, which the government says owes $661m (335m)) after the collapse of its Filanbanco bank in 1998.

The bank's owners, William and Roberto Isaias, are facing embezzlement charges and Ecuador is seeking their extradition from the US.

The confiscation provoked a wave of protests from the TV stations' owners and workers, and prompted the resignation of the finance minister, Fausto Ortiz.


Speaking at the swearing-in of Mr Ortiz's successor, Wilma Salgado, President Correa defended the action taken against the Isaias Group.

The government did not have the slightest interests in holding onto the companies and the best solution was for them to be auctioned off as quickly as possible so investors could recover their money, he said.

"What interests us is that finally justice is done, " said Mr Correa.

"How is possible for there to be failed banks but 10 years on there are still extremely prosperous bankers who have yachts, planes, mansions?"

Opposition leaders attacked the seizures as politically motivated and connected to Mr Correa's determination to push through constitutional reform, which was a key part of his election campaign in 2006.

Alvaro Dassum, the head of one of the seized stations, Gamavision, said his channel had nothing to do with the collapsed bank and no business ties to his cousins, the Isaias brothers.

"The government wants to shut up media that has been dedicated to telling the truth," he said.

But Ecuador's journalists' federation (Fenape) backed the government's action, saying it did not threaten freedom of expression but was aimed at recovering debts.

Ecuador state seizes TV stations
08 Jul 08 |  Americas
Ecuador leader celebrates 'win'
16 Apr 07 |  Americas
Country profile: Ecuador
16 Apr 08 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Ecuador
06 Jun 08 |  Country profiles

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