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Ecuador to revise austerity law following unrest

The Ecuadorean government will revise a controversial austerity law following unrest and a suspected coup attempt, government officials announced Saturday. The announcement came after days of unrest [BBC report], during which protesting police officers fired tear gas at President Rafael Correa [official website; BBC profile], surrounded the hospital at which he was being treated, and trapped him there for 12 hours. The police were protesting the Public Service Law [text, PDF, in Spanish], which they feared would reduce their pay and benefits as part of nationwide austerity measures. The National Assembly denied this claim [press release, in Spanish] on Friday, arguing that the law "includes important benefits for the Armed Forces, Police and Fire Department, including overtime, in recognition of their effort and sacrifice made for the country." Correa has characterized [Al Jazeera report] the unrest as a coup attempt fomented by opposition parties. Three members of the police leadership are under investigation for the violence. Also on Saturday, government officials announced that Correa had no immediate plans to dissolve the National Assembly, which would allow him to pass law by decree until the next election. This was reportedly considered as a way in which to pass through the austerity measures after members of Correa's Alianza PAIS [party website, in Spanish] party had threatened to vote against the measures.

The power to dissolve the legislature and pass laws by decree is one that was conferred to Correa under the new constitution passed in 2008 [JURIST report]. Ecuadorean voters overwhelmingly approved the constitution, which also gave Correa the power to control monetary policy and seek reelection for an additional term. The special assembly charged with rewriting the constitution provisionally approved [JURIST report] the document in July. The success of Correa's referendum fulfilled his pledge to rewrite the country's constitution after his coalition's landslide victory [JURIST report] in October 2007. Critics characterized the 444-article constitution as giving the president too much control over the economy and the judiciary.

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