QUITO, Ecuador – After thousands of protesters took to the streets Saturday in defiance of a state of emergency he had imposed the day before, President Lucio Gutierrez yielded to the demonstrators and lifted the decree.
Gutierrez had suspended civil liberties in this capital city late Friday following three nights of protests against his rule. On Saturday, the order was largely ignored. The mayor of Quito, a key opposition leader, called on residents to disobey the state of emergency, which suspended freedom of speech and the right to assembly.
“The people cannot live as they are today, in a dictatorship,” Mayor Paco Moncayo said. “Instead of correcting his mistakes, the president has only created more chaos.”
Opposition to Gutierrez, a former army colonel, has grown since December, when the president and his congressional allies purged the Supreme Court of justices who had supported a failed attempt to have him impeached on corruption charges.
Following the purge, the president stacked the court with his allies. In his speech Friday suspending civil liberties, the president also dismissed all 31 of the high-court’s justices in a concession to the opposition. The president of Congress announced Saturday night there will be a special session of the legislature today to discuss the law covering the appointment of Supreme Court justices and the future composition of the court.
In his televised message Friday, Gutierrez said he was dissolving the court because it had been constituted only as a temporary measure and it was time to move on. “Beloved people of Ecuador, let’s now leave everything in God’s hands,” he said.
Gutierrez said he was suspending civil guarantees “because of the state of internal commotion” caused by the street demonstrations, which on Friday saw 15,000 residents of Quito banging pots and pans in a traditional form of middle-class protest.
About noon Saturday, roughly 10,000 protesters gathered on Shyris Avenue in northern Quito and other points to defy the state of emergency.
Police and military forces largely ignored the protesters, although there was a strong military presence near the city’s most important government buildings. There were no reports of arrests.
Gutierrez was elected Ecuador’s president in 2002 with strong support from the country’s Indian population, but many indigenous leaders have since broken with him.