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Ecuador's President Flees Amid Deadly Protests

Protesters clash with police at Ecuadorean Congress in Quito
Despite his pledge to remain in office, Ecuador's beleaguered President, Lucio Gutierrez, fled the government palace Wednesday after a week of deadly street protests.

Ecuador's attorney general has ordered the new head of national police in pursuit of Gutierrez who fled the palace in a helicopter. Airports in the capital and the coastal city of Guayaquil were shut down in an effort to prevent Mr. Gutierrez from leaving the country.

Television images showed protesters rushing into the plaza outside the palace when police withdrew from the area. Inside the palace, Minister of Government, Oscar Ayerve, announced Marco Puvero was appointed as head the nation's police force. The former police commander had resigned after the Tuesday death of a Chilean photographer. Ecuador's Red Cross has confirmed another death as well, along with dozens injured in the protests.

Elsewhere in the city, the Congress installed Gutierrez's vice president, Hugo Alfredo Palacio, as the new president of the small Andean country. Speaking to media, he railed against the Gutierrez administration with the words, "Today the dictatorship has ended!" Mr. Palacio has been a vocal critic for months.

Reports differed on whether Mr. Gutierrez was headed to Chile or to Panama, where Bucaram found asylum several years ago. In late March a Gutierrez-backed Supreme Court dropped corruption charges against Bucaram, who returned to Ecuador. It was the beginning of increasingly shrill calls for Gutierrez to leave office. The Minister of Government's statement also included Colonel Gutierrez's demand that Mr. Bucaram leave the country.

The same statement by Mr. Ayerve revealed that Ecuador's military had withdrawn support for the president, who as a mid-level military officer led a brief coup against then-president Jamil Mahuad in 2000.

Colonel Gutierrez had earlier angered Quito residents by calling the protesters "forajidos", which in Spanish translates as "outlaw" or "fugitive". In yet another irony of Ecuador's colorful politics, he is now himself a fugitive.

The crisis initially centered on what was called a judicial crisis spawned by Mr. Gutierrez's efforts in Congress to "de-politicize" the Supreme Court. To that end, the court justices were removed twice, first by Congress in December and then again last Friday by a presidential decree, in which Mr. Gutierrez also declared a state of emergency in Quito, which he later lifted.

Mr. Gutierrez's move was widely viewed as violating the Constitution, and critics accused him of trying to illegally control all three branches of government.