At least one person was killed in violence that erupted late Friday between protesters and police guarding Ecuador’s presidential palace, authorities said. The unrest came as this small Andean nation found itself with three presidents--the one Ecuadoreans elected, the one Congress named when it dismissed him and the country’s vice president, who claims the position is hers.
Police said 18-year-old student Patricio Uyumbillo died of unknown causes during the disturbances, in which some protesters fought back with rocks and homemade gasoline bombs as dense plumes of tear gas rose up over the city center.
But opposition politicians said his skull was fractured by a tear-gas canister.
At least five demonstrators and one policeman were injured.
Elected President Abdala Bucaram barricaded himself inside the palace after Congress voted late Thursday to remove him on the grounds of “mental incapacity.”
Congressional leader Fabian Alarcon was the lawmakers’ choice for interim president until new elections are called within a year. That decision led Vice President Rosalia Arteaga to object, saying she was constitutionally entitled to succeed Bucaram.
The disturbances erupted after Alarcon urged about 4,000 demonstrators attending a rally against Bucaram to join him in a bid to take the palace by force.
Hundreds of riot police, backed by armored personnel carriers and water cannons, fired tear gas into the angry crowd of demonstrators as they moved to breach the security cordon around the Carondelet Palace.
Sporadic disturbances were reported all day in the streets around the palace. But the clashes that erupted shortly before 6 p.m. were the worst by far and stepped up pressure on Bucaram to hand over the presidency to Alarcon.
Gen. Paco Moncayo, head of the army, urged all parties in the conflict to seek a peaceful, negotiated solution.
“The country cannot have a power vacuum,” Moncayo said at a news conference. He emphasized that the military will remain neutral.
Bucaram and Arteaga accepted the military’s recommendation for a dialogue among the three contenders. But Alarcon rejected the proposal.
“We have nothing to negotiate. There are not three presidents,” he said at a news conference Friday. “There is a deposed ex-head of state, a vice president self-proclaimed [as president] and a president elected by . . . parliament.”
Shortly after midday, Defense Minister Gen. Victor Hugo Bayas announced that Bucaram had declared a state of emergency to respond to the “situation of violence that is affecting the country.”
The move suspends the constitutional rights to hold public meetings and move freely about the country. It also restricts press freedom.
Meeting with reporters at the palace, Bucaram said he had no intention of relinquishing power to a “minuscule group” of “congressional conspirators.”
He insisted that he would retain the presidency until his mandate expires Aug. 10, 2000.
In voting to remove him, Bucaram’s detractors in Congress cited his erratic behavior and the political stunts he pulled while the country slid into economic stagnation.