Ecuador TV studio taken over live on air by masked people brandishing guns

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Ecuador TV studio taken over live on air by masked people brandishing guns

Nevin Al Sukari - Sana'a - Workers lie on the floor as hooded and armed people take over a tv studio of Ecuador's TV station TC during a live broadcast, in this still image of a Reuters' recording of the affair of TC signal channel, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, January 9, 2024. — Screen capture via Reuters Tv/via Reuters

GUAYAQUIL, Jan 10 — A live broadcast by Ecuadorean television station TC was interrupted yesterday by armed people, with gunshots and yelling heard on a live feed, as President Daniel Noboa issued a decree declaring 22 gangs as terrorist organisations.

The people, wearing balaclavas and mostly dressed in black, were seen wielding guns and accosting huddled staffers before the feed cut out.

Some of the invaders gestured at the camera and someone could be heard yelling “no police”.

The national police said on social media it was evacuating the public channel’s studio in Guayaquil, verifying the condition of staff there and “reestablishing order”.

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Police in Guayaquil confirmed 13 arrests, and police social media posts showed photos of young men lying on the floor with their hands zip-tied behind their backs.

The incident followed the kidnappings of at least seven police officers and a series of explosions, a day after Noboa declared a state of emergency.

TC, which broadcasts nationally, shares a site with another public broadcaster, Gamavision, and several radio stations.

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The attackers entered through Gamavision’s reception, assaulting staff there and leaving dynamite behind, TC news coordinator and reporter Leonardo Flores Moreno told Reuters in a message.

“We were in a meeting and they alerted us and we were able to hide,” said Flores, who was not on the sound stage during the takeover, but said two people at TC had been injured.

“We don’t know what is happening, people are nervous, there are many colleagues from Gama and TC who are hiding,” Flores said, adding he could hear helicopters overhead.

Noboa, son of one of the country’s richest men, took office in November promising to stem a wave of drug trade-related violence on the streets and in prisons which has been growing for years.

Noboa declared a 60-day state of emergency — a tool used by his predecessor to little success — on Monday, enabling military patrols, including in prisons, and setting a national nighttime curfew.

The measure was a response to the apparent escape of Adolfo Macias, leader of the Los Choneros criminal gang, from the prison where he was serving a 34-year sentence, and other recent prison incidents, including hostage-takings of guards.

In an updated decree published yesterday afternoon, Noboa said he recognised an “internal armed conflict” in Ecuador and identified several criminal gangs as terrorist groups, including Los Choneros. The decree ordered the armed forces to neutralise the groups.

Noboa is meeting with security officials and is expected to speak later yesterday.

Noboa has said he will not negotiate with “terrorists” and the government has blamed the recent prison violence on Noboa’s plan to build a new high security prison and transfer jailed gang leaders.

Seven police officers were kidnapped in three separate incidents in the southern city of Machala, Quito and Los Rios province, police said earlier.

People accused of invading and taking over television station TC with weapons and forcing staff to lie and sit down, lie handcuffed on the floor in a police haundout, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, January 9, 2024. — Picture courtesy of Ecuadorean Police/Handout via Reuters

People accused of invading and taking over television station TC with weapons and forcing staff to lie and sit down, lie handcuffed on the floor in a police haundout, in Guayaquil, Ecuador, January 9, 2024. — Picture courtesy of Ecuadorean Police/Handout via Reuters

The police said there were explosions in the provinces of Esmeraldas and Los Rios, while mayor’s offices in the cities of Cuenca and Quito confirmed others and the attorney general’s office said it was investigating one in Guayaquil. Local media have also reported explosions in Loja and Machala.

Authorities have not given a cause for any of the explosions and no one has claimed responsibility.

Prisons agency SNAI said earlier yesterday a group of prisoners escaped from a penitentiary in Riobamba, including accused gang member Colon Pico, who was allegedly involved in an attack plot against the attorney general. Seventeen of the 39 escapees have been recaptured, the prosecutor’s office said.

Eleven prison guards who had been taken hostage over the past two days have been released, SNAI added, but 139 guards and other staff are still being held.

Some Ecuadoreans demanded action beyond the state of emergency.

“The previous government declared them and they were ineffective. Noboa needs to take more drastic measures, go out with the police and armed forces to impose order,” said Marcelo Gordillo, 42. “He must take the bull by the horns.”

Noboa plans to hold a plebiscite this year focused on security efforts.

Ecuadorean sovereign bonds fell as concern over the violence spread to financial markets. The 2035 bond EC221423852=RRPS fell 1.125 cents to 36.25 cents on the dollar, while the 2030 EC221423780=RRPS dropped 1 cent to 48.25 and the 2040 EC221423917=RRPS lost half a cent to trade at 32.5 cents according to LSEG data.

Spreads widened 83 basis points to 2,039 bps in JPMorgan’s EMBIG index, reversing all the gains of the year in a rally that began in mid December.

The University of Guayaquil said reports of criminals entering its facilities were false, despite social media claims. — Reuters

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