QUITO, Ecuador — The government declared a state of siege Thursday after rebellious police angered by a law that cuts their benefits plunged this small South American nation into chaos, roughing up the president, shutting down airports and blocking highways in a nationwide strike.
Incensed officers shoved President Rafael Correa around and pelted him with tear gas and water when he tried to speak at a police barracks in the capital. Correa, 47, was hospitalized from the effects of the gas.The state of siege puts the military in charge of public order, suspending civil liberties and allowing soldiers to carry out searches without a warrant.
Hundreds of officers involved in the insurrection took over police barracks in Quito, Guayaquil and other cities. They also set up roadblocks out of burning tires that cut off highway access to the capital.
Schools shut down in Quito and many businesses closed due to the absence of police protection that left citizens and businesses vulnerable to crime.
Looting was reported in the capital — where at least two banks were sacked — and in the coastal city Guayaquil. That city's main newspaper, El Universo, reported assaults on supermarkets and robberies due to the absence of police.
As he confronted the protesters, Correa was agitated but firm.
"If you want to kill the president, here he is! Kill me!" he told them before limping away with the aid of a cane as an aide fitted a gas mask over his face. Correa's right knee was operated on just last week.
There were no reports of serious violence against the government, but Correa called the unrest "an attempted coup by the opposition," speaking by telephone from a hospital room where he said he was hooked to an intravenous drip.
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