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

President Daniel Noboa declared a state of emergency on Monday which was followed by a spate of kidnappings and explosions

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

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

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.

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

The attackers entered through reception at Gamavision, 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.

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.

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.

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. Ecuadorean Police/Handout via REUTERS
Photo: Reuters

State of emergency

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 on Tuesday afternoon, Noboa said he recognized an “internal armed conflict” in Ecuador and identified several criminal gangs as terrorist groups, including Los Choneros. The decree ordered the armed forces to neutralize the groups.

Three police officers working the night shift were kidnapped in the southern city of Machala, police said on social media earlier on Tuesday, while three criminals in Quito took a fourth officer. Another three officers were kidnapped in Los Rios province after a patrol was hit by an explosive.

“These acts will not remain in impunity,” said the police, who have given no details on whether the kidnappers have issued demands.

The police said there were explosions in the provinces of Esmeraldas and Los Rios, while the mayor’s office in the city of Cuenca confirmed another 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.

— Reuters, by Alexandra Valencia and Yury Garcia


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