6 ousted lawmakers flee Ecuador to Colombia

Thursday, April 26, 2007

QUITO, Ecuador -- Six ousted opposition lawmakers fled to Colombia after an Ecuadorean prosecutor requested that they and their colleagues be arrested for sedition.

Prosecutor Elsa Moreno accused two dozen ousted lawmakers of disregarding authority after they declared themselves to be legitimate congressmen based on a ruling this week by Ecuador's Constitutional Tribunal.

The tribunal was then dismissed by the sitting congress, as President Rafael Correa tightened his hold over all branches of government. On Tuesday, Correa disregarded the tribunal's ruling and surrounded Congress with police to prevent the lawmakers from returning.

Alfonso Harb, one of the six ousted congressmen who fled to Colombia, on Wednesday said the prosecutor's request for the arrest warrants represents "political persecution against the opposition congressmen. ... We were dismissed unfairly in violation of the constitution."

More than half of congress was fired in March by an electoral tribunal that accused the lawmakers of interfering with a referendum on the need for a new constitution.

An overwhelming 82 percent of voters last week approved the election of a constitutional assembly that Correa hopes will reduce the power of political parties.

Ousted congresswoman Gloria Gallardo, also in Colombia, said that lawmakers feared for their lives and were evaluating whether to request political asylum from Colombian authorities.

She said they fled Ecuador to escape the "political persecution they are suffering" because of Correa's government.

Correa said he opposed the prosecutor's request to a judge for the arrest orders. The judge, Elsa Sanchez, said she was studying the request.

But Correa warned that if any of the dismissed lawmakers tried to enter Congress by force, "it will be necessary to send them to prison."

The dismissal of the constitutional tribunal effectively consolidated Correa's control over the courts and legislature in the politically unstable Andean nation.

Correa is Ecuador's eighth president in a decade. During that period, Congress has dismissed three unpopular presidents, violating impeachment proceedings in the process.

On Wednesday, the top U.S. diplomat for the Americas, Thomas Shannon, voiced support for political reform in Ecuador, saying that "the Ecuadorean people spoke with a firm voice in the referendum."

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