Ecuador declares war on armed gangs after TV station attacked on air

Ecuador declares war on armed gangs after TV station attacked on air

Ecuador’s president has ordered that criminal gangs be “neutralised” after days of violence culminated in an attack on a television studio.

Masked gunmen broke into public television channel TC’s live studio during a broadcast, forcing staff to the floor.

Police made 13 arrests following the attack, which injured two employees.

At least 10 people have been killed since a 60-day state of emergency began in Ecuador on Monday.

The emergency was declared after a notorious gangster vanished from his prison cell. It is unclear whether the incident at the TV studio in Guayaquil was related to the disappearance from a prison in the same city of the boss of the Choneros gang, Adolfo Macías Villamar, or Fito as he is better known.

President Noboa said on Tuesday that an “internal armed conflict” now existed in the country and he was mobilising the armed forces to carry out “military operations to neutralise” what he called “transnational organised crime, terrorist organisations and belligerent non-state actors”.

In neighbouring Peru, the government ordered the immediate deployment of a police force to the border to prevent any instability spilling over into the country.

The US has said it condemns the “brazen attacks” in Ecuador and is “co-ordinating closely” with President Daniel Noboa and his Ecuadorean government and stands “ready to provide assistance”.

Ecuador is one of the world’s top banana exporters, but also exports oil, coffee, cocoa, shrimps and fish products. A surge in violence in the Andean nation, inside and outside its prisons, has been linked to fighting between drug cartels, both foreign and local, over control of cocaine routes to the US and Europe.

During Tuesday’s assault at the TV station, one gunman pointed a pump-action shotgun at the head of one of the captives, who was also threatened with a revolver.

A woman could be heard pleading, “Don’t shoot, please don’t shoot,” AFP news agency reports, while a person could be heard screaming in apparent pain.

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

One cameraman was shot in the leg, and another’s arm was broken in the attack, the deputy director of news said.

“Through our earpieces the producers told us, ‘Be careful, they are trying to enter, they are stealing, they are mugging us’,” Jorge Rendon told the Reuters news agency.

“The doors in the studio are very thick, almost bullet-proofed, and they were trying to get in because they wanted to gain access to the studio so we would say whatever they wanted us to say,” he said.

Posting video of the suspects arrested on social media – and their weapons – police said the perpetrators would be “punished for terrorist acts”. (BBC)

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