Congress Weighs Resolution Urging President to Resign
QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ President Leon Febres Cordero said the military high command plans to disband the paratrooper unit whose members held him hostage for 11 hours, but denied the action violated his pledge to take no reprisals against the rebels.
The opposition-controlled Congress, meanwhile, began voting Tuesday on a motion urging Febres Cordero to resign. Balloting was suspended after three votes were cast - two in favor and one against - and was scheduled to resume late this afternoon.
Opposition lawmakers accuse the president of repeatedly violating the constitutional division of powers by ignoring or blocking measures approved by Congress. They have called for his impeachment if he refuses to step down voluntarily.
Febres Cordero, a strong-willed conservative leader who is one of Washington’s closest allies in Latin America, has vowed he will not be forced from office before his four-year term ends in August 1988.
Febres Cordero supporters and anti-government protesters clashed briefly outside the National Congress building as debate opened, but were dispersed by police. One woman was injured when someone in the mob opened fire, police said. Earlier, police used tear gas to break up a planned march to Congress by several dozen students favoring impeachment.
In announcing the dissolution of the air force paratrooper corps, Febres Cordero said it did not violate his pledge to the paratroopers because the decision was not his.
He said that while the executive branch would not act against his kidnappers, the judicial branch is independent and should investigate and punish them.
Fifty to 80 paratroopers kidnapped Febres Cordero for 11 hours last Friday and forced him to grant amnesty to the former commander of the air force, Gen. Frank Vargas Pazzos, who had been detained since he led a failed rebellion in March 1986.
Febres Cordero said he was punched, kicked and threatened with death while held captive. Two of his bodyguards were killed.
A military court dropped the rebellion charge against Vargas Pazzos, in keeping with the amnesty Febres Cordero was forced to sign. But the court maintained a corruption charge against the general stemming from an alleged kickback in the purchase of an aircraft.
Vargas Pazzos’ defense lawyer, Patricio Buendia, on Tuesday accused Febres Cordero of failing to fulfil the pledges he made to his kidnappers. He said the paratroopers could get up to 12 years in prison if they are convicted of kidnapping, and that Vargas Pazzos was not a free man.
″General Vargas is a fugitive from justice,″ he said.
Buendia said he hoped to have bail set soon on the corruption charge so that Vargas Pazzos could emerge from where he has been hiding in Guayaquil, a seaport 180 miles southwest of the capital.
″We calculate that he can be in Quito by Saturday,″ Buendia said.
Vargas Pazzos has said he wants to run for president in next year’s elections.
Febres Cordero on Tuesday accused leftist politicians of plotting his kidnapping, which he said included plans to kill him. But he did not identify anyone by name or give any proof.
The opposition reacted quickly.
″Once again he attacked Congress. Febres Cordero remains the same man,″ said Juan Cueva, a Social Democratic congressman. ″He has not learned how to live in a democracy, not even with a beating.″
The Social Democrats hold 17 seats, making them the largest party in the opposition coalition. They have joined smaller, more radical leftist parties in warning they would support ″a political trial″ of the president if he does not resign.
The opposition coalition controls 41 seats in the 71-seat unicameral Congress. A president can be impeached with a simple majority, but a two- thirds majority - 47 seats - is needed to force him from office.
At a meeting with American reporters, U.S. Ambassador Fernando Rondon said the U.S. government is deeply concerned about the unstable political situation.
″We’re very, very worried that political polarization in Ecuador could lead to actions that threaten the democratic life of this country,″ he said. ″We hope to God that they don’t do something foolish here.″