The United States Thursday called on Ecuadoreans to reject violence and respect the rule of law in that country's political turmoil. U.S. officials are in touch with leaders in Quito, though the State Department says the Organization of American States has the lead role in crisis diplomacy.

The ouster of Ecuador's former President Lucio Gutierrez Wednesday after a vote by Congress marked the third time that an Ecuadorean president has been forced from office in crisis circumstances in eight years.

Officials here, while not labeling the change in Quito illegal, say the objective of diplomacy by the United States and other Hemisphere countries is to help bring about the "re-institutionalization" of Ecuadorean politics while avoiding violence.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius Thursday for a NATO meeting, appealed for calm and respect for constitutional procedures in Ecuador.

The comments were echoed here by State Department Deputy Spokesman Adam Ereli, who stressed the United States' close friendship with Ecuador and its desire to work with regional partners to "help Ecuador work its way through" its political impasse.

"We think it's important that in doing so, a couple of principles be followed," he said. "One, that violence be rejected. Number two that the rule of law be respected, and that the principles of Ecuador's constitution and the Inter-American Democratic Charter be followed."

Alfredo Palacio is sworn in as country's new president
Spokesman Ereli said U.S. recognition of Ecuador's new president Alfredo Palacio, the country's former vice president who assumed office Thursday, was not in question and that relations with Ecuador would continue uninterrupted.

A senior diplomat who spoke to reporters here said U.S. officials had not spoken with Mr. Palacio since his swearing-in, but that there had been contacts with his close associates and members of the Ecuadorean Congress of various factions.

The diplomat, under questioning, declined to call the latest change of government in Ecuador unconstitutional.

But he did describe the turn of events as unorthodox, and said the hope of the United States and other concerned countries is to help bring things back to "established institutions and procedures."

The U.S. diplomat said the Organization of American States is taking the lead role in consultations on Ecuador.

Permanent ambassadors of the 34-nation regional grouping met on the Ecuadorean crisis at its Washington headquarters late Wednesday and again Thursday.

Ecuador's delegate defended the removal of former President Gutierrez as a constitutional act, but the OAS Permanent Council demanded a further explanation of the ouster by Friday.

The OAS approved the Inter-American Democratic Charter in 2001 which would sanction or suspend countries in which there is an interruption of the democratic order.

Officials here say the "fluid" situation in Ecuador will be a major issue in Secretary of State Rice's Latin American trip next week. She is due to visit Brazil, Colombia, Chile and El Salvador.