State of emergency in Ecuador

Turmoil in the South American country continues, as the President, police and army all wrestle for c

The relative calm of Rafael Correa's three-year presidency was shattered yesterday when protests by police officers paralysed the country and took a nasty turn when the president was injured and taken to hospital.

In response to austerity measures implemented by President Correa on Wednesday evening, hundreds of police officers lined the streets of Quito and other major Ecuadorean cities on Thursday morning and blocked airports and roads across the country. The new measures include a law passed by Congress which will reportedly affect the granting of medals, bonuses and promotions as part of a vain attempt by the government to cut expenditure. Around 300 members of the armed forces, who are also affected by the law, joined the protest and stormed Quito's main airport, preventing flights from entering or leaving the airport for up to nine hours.

Things turned from bad to worse when Correa visited a military barracks. As he stood addressing the armed forces around him, the President shouted "If you want to kill the president, here he is. Kill him, if you want to. Kill him if you are brave enough." Moments later he got what he was asking for when he was physically attacked by protestors and sprayed with tear gas. After being taken to hospital, the President was reportedly trapped inside for several hours while a gun battle waged between protestors led to several people being killed and dozens injured.

He was smuggled back to the safety of Carondelet palace by members of the army. Having previously declared a state of emergency, since his rescue, Correa has described the protest as an attempt to overthrow him.

Certainly Ecuador is no stranger to political coups: three of its presidents have been ousted over the last 13 years. Correa was in fact the first president to win two terms when he was re-elected for his second term last year. However, his popularity has declined dramatically over the last year following certain controversial decisions. His decision that the country would default on $3.2 billion of "illegitimate" international debt made its sovereign debt one of the riskiest in the continent and provoked widespread fiscal problems. In February 2009, his decision to expel two US diplomats was rejected by Washington. In July this year he implemented a new oil law which enables the government to nationalise oil fields if a private operator fails to comply with local laws. Given that oil is one of the country's main selling points, many fear that such a move may deter foreign investors.

Although Correa faces little challenge from the opposition, he has earned a surprising contender to his presidency in the form of his brother Fabricio and the tensions between the brothers have done much to discredit Rafael's presidency in recent months. In 2009 the pair was embroiled in a corruption scandal when Ecuadorean newspaper Diario Expreso revealed that Fabricio's engineering business had experienced suspiciously unprecedented growth since his brother took office.

Since one of Rafael's main goals throughout his presidency has been to fight corruption, these allegations, although unfounded in the end, were enough to taint Rafael's political career irrecoverably. In a vain attempt to reduce the impact of the scandal on his reputation, Rafael subsequently signed a decree preventing public entities from entering into advertising contracts with media outlets.

Although the brothers initially supported one another throughout the allegations, relations quickly soured and Fabricio has since expressed his wish to stand for the 2013 elections. In contrast to the relatively peaceful Miliband struggle for Labour leadership across the Atlantic, this brotherly contest looks set to be less than amicable.

This, combined with the fact that Rafael has received much criticism for his handling of events over the past few days, puts the future of his presidency in doubt. Many people, including leading Ecuadorean journalist Rubén Darío Buitrón, refute Rafael's claims that he has been the victim of a military coup and warn that he may use the situation to galvanise support. It is difficult to say how this week's events can be resolved, but it is certain that worse is yet to come.

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“We can’t do this again”: Labour conference reactions to Jeremy Corbyn’s second victory

Overjoyed members, determined allies and concerned MPs are divided on how to unite.

“I tell you what, I want to know who those 193,229 people are.” This was the reaction of one Labour member a few rows from the front of the stage, following the announcement of Jeremy Corbyn’s victory at the Labour party conference. She was referring to support received by his defeated contender, Owen Smith, who won 38.2 per cent of the vote (to Corbyn’s 61.8 per cent).

But it’s this focus on the leader’s critics – so vehement among many (and there are a lot of them) of his fans – that many politicians, of either side, who were watching his victory speech in the conference hall want to put an end to.

“It’s about unity and bringing us all together – I think that’s what has to come out of this,” says shadow cabinet member and MP for Edmonton Kate Osamor. “It shouldn’t be about the figures, and how many votes, and his percentage, because that will just cause more animosity.”

Osamor, who is supportive of Corbyn’s leadership, is not alone in urging her colleagues who resigned from the shadow cabinet to “remember the door is never shut”.

Shadow minister and member of Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) Jon Ashworth – not a Corbyn loyalist, but focusing on making the shadow cabinet work together – shares the sentiment.

Standing pensively in front of the now-empty stage, he tells me he backs shadow cabinet elections (though not for every post) – a change to party rules that has not yet been decided by the NEC. “[It] would be a good way of bringing people back,” he says. “I’ve been involved in discussions behind the scenes this week and I hope we can get some resolution on the issue.”

He adds: “Jeremy’s won, he has to recognise a number of people didn’t vote for him, so we’ve got to unite.”

The former Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, another MP on the NEC, is sitting in the audience, looking over some documents. She warns that “it’s impossible to tell” whether those who resigned from Corbyn’s shadow cabinet would be willing to return, and is concerned about talent being wasted.

“We have a lot of excellent people in the party; there are new people now in the shadow cabinet who have had a chance to show their mettle but you need experience as well as ability,” she says.

Beckett, who has urged Corbyn to stand down in the past, hopes “everybody’s listening” to his call for unity, but questions how that will be achieved.

“How much bad blood there is among people who were told that there was plotting [against Corbyn], it’s impossible to tell, but obviously that doesn’t make for a very good atmosphere,” she says. “But Jeremy says we’ll wipe the slate clean, so let’s hope everybody will wipe the slate clean.”

It doesn’t look that way yet. Socialist veteran Dennis Skinner is prowling around the party conference space outside the hall, barking with glee about Corbyn’s defeated foes. “He’s trebled the membership,” he cries. “A figure that Blair, Brown and Prescott could only dream about. On average there’s more than a thousand of them [new members] in every constituency. Right-wing members of the parliamentary Labour party need to get on board!”

A call that may go unheeded, with fervent Corbyn allies and critics alike already straying from the unity message. The shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon is reminding the PLP that, “Jeremy’s won by a bigger margin this time”, and telling journalists after the speech that he is “relaxed” about how the shadow cabinet is recruited (not a rallying cry for shadow cabinet elections).

“If Jeremy wants to hold out an olive branch to the PLP, work with MPs more closely, he has to look very seriously at that [shadow cabinet elections]; it’s gone to the NEC but no decision has been made,” says Louise Ellman, the Liverpool MP and transport committee chair who has been critical of Corbyn’s leadership. “That might not be the only way. I think he has to find a way of working with MPs, because we’re all elected by millions of people – the general public – and he seems to dismiss that.”

“If he sees it [his victory] as an endorsement of how he’s been operating up until now, the problems which led to the election being called will remain,” Ellman warns. “If we’re going to be a credible party of government, we’ve got to reach out to the general electorate. He didn’t say anything about that in his speech, but I hope that perhaps now he might feel more confident to be able to change direction.”

Corbyn may have called for cooperation, but his increased mandate (up from his last stonking victory with 59.5 per cent of the vote) is the starkest illustration yet of the gulf between his popularity in Parliament and among members.

The fact that one attempt at a ceasefire in the party’s civil war – by allowing MPs to vote for some shadow cabinet posts – is in contention suggests this gulf is in danger of increasing.

And then where could the party be this time next year? As Osamor warns: “We should not be looking at our differences, because when we do that, we end up thinking it’s a good thing to spend our summer having another contest. And we can’t. We can’t do this again.”

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.