Doug Henwood dhenwood at
Sat Jan 22 13:11:04 PST 2000

AFP - January 23 3:41 AM SGT

Ecuadoran Congress accepts Noboa as new president

QUITO, Jan 22 (AFP) - In an emergency session on Saturday, the Ecuadoran Congress approved Gustavo Noboa as the country's new president, following a military coup that removed elected president Jamil Mahuad from office.

With cries of "long live democracy!" the congress approved Noboa, who was Mahuad's vice president, as the country's new leader by 87 votes in favor, two against, and one abstention.

Noboa took control of Ecuador's government early Saturday, after a three-man military junta that deposed Mahuad handed power over to him.

Noboa, 61, has vowed to continue efforts to modernize the country and fight corruption. He also promised to keep Mahuad's controversial economic program that replaces the local currency with the US dollar.

The unicameral congress -- meeting in the southern coastal city of Guayaquil, the country's largest city -- ruled that Mahuad had abandoned office, and that Noboa should replace him.

In a surprise televised speech from Quito just before congress met, Mahuad -- who had gone missing for hours -- said he had not resigned from the presidency, but recognized that he had been replaced by Noboa.

"The legitimate president was ousted by a military coup," Mahuad said in his brief speech, describing the event as a "charade."

Mahuad nevertheless urged Ecuadorans to unite behind Noboa, asking the nation "to give Gustavo Noboa the support that was not given to me."

The confusing string of events that led to a new government happened in a matter of hours: unrest that had been simmering for days peaked Friday when thousands of Indians took over the congress building and brought the capital to a standstill.

The Indians, members of a broad umbrella organization known as CONAI, were rapidly gaining support for a broader national strike against Mahuad.

A three-man junta was formed, led by former defense minister Army Colonel Carlos Mendoza, CONAI indigenous leader Antonio Vargas and former Supreme Court judge Carlos Solorzano y Vargas then overthrew Mahuad.

At first it was unclear if they would be resisted by forces loyal to Mahuad, a former mayor of Quito, or military forces bent on maintaining the constitutional order.

The unpopular Mahuad first challenged the mutineers to call their movement a coup and refused to resign. But around nightfall the army informed Mahuad that he no longer had their support, just as thousands of protesters marched on the presidential palace.

Mahuad vanished for hours -- in his speech he said that he was taken to the airport and offered an airplane to leave the country, but later slipped past a tightening military noose and took refuge at the Chilean embassy. Early Sunday Mahuad took to the airwaves to urge Ecuadorans to support the new president.

Early Saturday -- in part responding to an international outcry against any military coup -- the triumvirate invoked articles of the constitution on presidential succession and control of the government over to vice-president Noboa.

Noboa accepted office around 7:30 a.m. (1230 GMT) Saturday.

Protestors demanded Mahuad's resignation because of deteriorating economic conditions -- including a dramatic fall in the value of the national currency, the sucre.

Indigenous people, numbering about 3.5 million in Ecuador's population of 13.5 million, feared that the dollarization plan would worsen their already dire economic plight.

Mahuad was elected 18 months ago on an ambitious program to modernize the economy and introduce market-oriented reforms.

But in recent months, Ecuador's recession-plagued economy has shrunk by seven percent, while inflation soared to 40.7 percent. During 1999, the sucre lost about half its value against the dollar.

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