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Ecuador: Gangsters declare “war” on the President after jailbreak, storm TV studio amid live broadcast

Ecuador: Gangsters declare “war” on the President after jailbreak, storm TV studio amid live broadcast

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Virendra Pandit 

 

New Delhi: In a dramatic development on Tuesday, Ecuadorean President Daniel Noboa declared his South American nation in a state of “internal armed conflict” just hours after notorious gangsters and drug lords declared “war” against him in an escalating security crisis sparked by the prison escape of one of the country’s most powerful criminal bosses.

President Noboa ordered military operations against the country’s powerful criminal groups after hooded gunmen stormed a television studio and gangsters threatened to execute security forces and civilians.

Authorities reported multiple explosions across the country and said seven police officers had been kidnapped. Several others were also taken hostage.

Long a peaceful haven sandwiched between top cocaine exporters Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has seen violence explode in recent years as enemy gangs with links to Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for control, the media reported.

“I have ordered the armed forces to carry out military operations to neutralize these groups,” Noboa wrote on social media.

His comments came shortly after armed attackers carrying rifles and grenades stormed the studio of TC television in the port city of Guayaquil as a woman was heard amid gunshots pleading: “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot.”

The intruders forced the terrified TV crew onto the ground, and a person could be heard screaming in apparent pain as the studio lights went off, but the live broadcast continued.

“Please, they came in to kill us. God don’t let this happen. The criminals are on air,” a TC employee told AFP in a WhatsApp message, the reports said.

After about 30 minutes of chaos, officers were seen entering the studio while someone then called out that they “have a wounded companion.”

Earlier on Tuesday, gangsters kidnapped police officers and set off explosives in several cities in response to a 60-day state of emergency and nighttime curfew declared by Noboa.

Noboa, 36, was elected President in October 2023 on a pledge to fight rampant drug-related crime and violence in the South American country—once considered a bastion of peace, but now a key stop on the US- and Europe-bound cocaine trade.

He vowed on Monday to bring the fight to the drug cartels after a powerful gang leader, Jose Adolfo Macias, known as “Fito,” escaped from prison on Sunday.

On Tuesday, the gangs hit back.

A chilling video circulating on social media showed three of the kidnapped officers sitting on the ground with a gun pointed at them as one is forced to read a statement addressed to President Noboa.

“You declared war, you will get war,” the terrified officer reads. “You declared a state of emergency. We declare police, civilians, and soldiers to be the spoils of war.”

The statement added that anyone found on the street after 11:00 pm (0500 GMT) “will be executed.”

The presidency and metro stations in Quito were under military guard on Tuesday.

A manhunt is underway for Fito, who had been serving a 34-year sentence for organized crime, drug trafficking, and murder.

The 44-year-old leader of the powerful Los Choneros gang is believed to have escaped just hours before police arrived to inspect the Guayaquil prison where he was held.

On Tuesday, officials said another drug lord, Los Lobos leader Fabricio Colon Pico, also escaped since his arrest last Friday for alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Ecuador’s attorney general.

Unrest broke out on Monday at penitentiaries in six of Ecuador’s 24 provinces, according to Ecuador’s prison authority SNAI, with guards taken hostage at some of the facilities.

Heavily armed police and soldiers entered the prisons of El Oro, Loja, Chimborazo, Cotopaxi, Azuay, and Pichincha, after which the military distributed images of half-naked inmates rounded up in courtyards.

The SNAI has not revealed whether the guards have since been released.

Noboa said the uprisings were revenge for his actions to “regain control” of the country’s prisons.

On Monday, he vowed to “not negotiate with terrorists nor rest until we return peace to all Ecuadorans.”

Drug violence has taken a heavy toll on the country.

The murder rate quadrupled from 2018 to 2022, while last year became the most violent yet with more than 7,800 homicides in the country of about 17 million people and 220 tons of drugs seized, a new record.

Since February 2021, clashes between prisoners have left more than 460 dead, many beheaded or burnt alive.

 

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