Ousted Ecuadorean president arrested upon return home

Former President Lucio Gutierrez, who was ousted by Congress in April and has been living in exile, returned home Friday to try to retake power, but was arrested upon arrival.

Gutierrez landed at around 7:40 p.m. in a chartered plane from the Colombian capital, Bogota, where he had renounced political asylum. He was immediately detained by a group of police and taken to a small, enclosed room where he was read his rights and placed under arrest.

Gutierrez insisted before leaving Colombia that he was unjustly ousted and accused his successor, President Alfredo Palacio, of corruption and fabricating charges against him. Hours before Gutierrez's arrival, police used tear gas to disperse about 500 of his supporters who tried to force their way into the airport, hurling rocks and shouting, "Gutierrez, friend, the people are with you!" No arrests or injuries were immediately reported.

Another 200 of Gutierrez's supporters in the capital, Quito, 260 kilometers (160 miles) to the northeast, marched peacefully to Ecuador's Superior Court of Justice. The court issued his arrest order July 22, contending the ex-president constituted a threat to national security after he accused Palacio of illegally assuming power and insisted that he remains Ecuador's rightful president.

Gutierrez, 48, was forced from office by Congress on April 20, five days after he disbanded the country's Supreme Court and declared a state of emergency, sparking massive street protests in the capital. Lawmakers said he had abandoned power even though he was still inside the government palace, and appointed Palacio, the elected vice president, to finish Gutierrez's four-year term, which ends in January 2007.

Gutierrez fled Ecuador and spent time in Brazil and Peru before seeking political asylum in Colombia, which was granted political asylum Oct. 4. The Organization of American States recognized Palacio's government in a May 20 resolution, deflating Gutierrez's efforts to mount an international campaign in the United States to challenge his ouster.

OAS Secretary-General Jose Miguel Insulza said he refused to receive Gutierrez in Washington in June when the former army colonel presented himself as the "constitutional president of Ecuador." Gutierrez was the third Ecuadorean president since 1997 forced from power, and was himself imprisoned for four months and cashiered from the army for participating in a coup that deposed President Jamil Mahuad in 2000.

He was elected president in November 2002 after campaigning as a populist, anti-corruption reformer, but he broke with his leftist constituency to implement economic austerity measures to satisfy lenders like the International Monetary Fund.

Many Ecuadoreans grew to revile Gutierrez, especially the residents of the capital Quito. But he maintains a loyal following in many smaller towns. Gutierrez announced he would return home on Thursday during a news conference to also launch the publication of his book, "The Coup," published in Spanish, AP reports.

А. А.

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