Ecuador's Troops Free President Held Captive

President Rafael Correa was rescued late Thursday from rebellious police by the military in Ecuador. The police were upset by a law cutting benefits. Soldiers firing automatic weapons and concussion grenades rescued Correa from a hospital. Freelance journalist Stephan Kueffner talks to Steve Inskeep about the incident.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's follow up yesterday's developments in Ecuador, where police staged a mass protest that ended with the country's president being attacked with tear gas. He had to be rescued from the police by the military. Stephan Kueffner is a freelance journalist who's been covering this story. He joins us now.

How did this begin?

Mr. STEPHAN KUEFFNER (Freelance Journalist): This began with protests about a new law where the police were included into the general civil service and bonus payments were accounted in a different way.

But there were very many police officers who were worried that they were going to lose Christmas bonuses, a basket full of goods for Christmas and bonuses when the reached a higher pay grade. So that's what caused the immediate unrest.

INSKEEP: And so they surrounded President Rafael Correa?

Mr. KUEFFNER: No. Actually, he went to speak to them, to one of the main barracks here in Quito, the capital. But things went awry there. In fact, the president in the end said, you know, here I am, try to kill me if you want.

And things got really violent then. Tear gas was fired, as you mentioned before. And he had to be taken quickly to a police hospital on the same barrack grounds.

INSKEEP: Then the military showed up. Did they actually have to shoot their way into the president or did the police give ground?

Mr. KUEFFNER: There was a standoff for about 10 hours at the police hospital. And special forces, not just the military but also loyal special forces from the police stormed the hospital, went up to the fourth floor where Correa was being kept and whisked him and some other people into three unmarked cars and then drove him away. And it was actually very violent. There were dozens and dozens of rounds of shots fired. And this isn't an isolated area, there's another hospital across the street, a symphony hall, apartment buildings so you can see it was a very dangerous situation.

INSKEEP: So the president is back in control of the country and of his own person at this point?

Mr. KUEFFNER: Yes, he is.

INSKEEP: One other question, though: in the United States, there's the Secret Service that looks after the president does the president of Ecuador have his own personal security, and what were they doing all this time?

Mr. KUEFFNER: He does, and it's been significantly beefed up. However, he was facing a number of well-armed police officers who were extremely angry.

INSKEEP: Stephan Kueffner is a reporter in Quito, Ecuador.

Thanks very much.

Mr. KUEFFNER: Thank you.

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