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Ecuador Congress Picks Interim President Fabian Alarcon Replaces Nation’s First Woman Leader

Congress selected its own leader, Fabian Alarcon, as Ecuador’s interim president Tuesday night, a move aimed at ending a weeklong political crisis that started with the ousting of the country’s elected president. He is to call elections within 12 months and govern until August 1998.

In his acceptance speech, he defended Congress’ decision to depose President Abdala Bucaram, saying “the country was on the verge of collapse” because of his policies and actions.

The flamboyant Bucaram, who calls himself El Loco, or “the crazy one,” was sacked Thursday by Congress for mental instability, accused of corruption, nepotism and embarrassing behavior during his six months in office.

As an emergency measure, Congress installed Vice President Rosalia Arteaga as a caretaker president until it could chose a new leader. It chose Alarcon to replace her by a vote of 57-2.

Arteaga had threatened not to leave the post, saying the Constitution made no mention of the role of an interim president. She changed her mind Monday, after meeting with military leaders, who have managed the recent crisis from behind the scenes.

Before she resigned Tuesday, she issued a decree calling for a national referendum on whether the country’s vice president should succeed the president if the position becomes vacant.

“I will return to the presidency of the republic only if that is the determination of the referendum,” said Arteaga.

Political instability started when Bucaram refused to step down after Congress voted him out; that sparked a fight for the presidency among Bucaram, Arteaga and Alarcon.

The turmoil raised fears of a military coup. While that did not happen, the crisis served to underscore the power and influence of the armed forces in the fragile democracy. Ecuador’s military - the ultimate arbiter of power - had to step in and negotiate a solution.

Speaking from the president’s office in the national palace, Arteaga also denied that the armed forces had a role in resolving the political crisis, which began with Congress’ dismissal of Bucaram.

“The role of the armed forces is internal and international security, but not acting in politics,” she said when asked if she had the support of the powerful military.

Bucaram left the country to spread the word that “a civilian dictatorship has been imposed.”

“I am President of the Republic. I never resigned and never will resign,” Bucaram told reporters and a small group of curious onlookers at the Panama City airport Tuesday night.

He said he planned to stop in other Latin American countries.