Ecuador declares 'armed conflict' after gunmen storm TV studio during live broadcast

Police arrest suspects behind armed seizure of national television station

Workers sit on the floor as hooded and armed people take over Ecuador's TV station TC during a live broadcast on January 9. Reuters
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Ecuador's President Daniel Noboa on Tuesday declared an “internal armed conflict” after gunmen burst on to the set of a live TV broadcast.

A show by Ecuadorean television station TC was interrupted by people who ordered staff to lie and sit on the floor at gunpoint, as shots and yelling were heard, Reuters reported.

The people, wearing balaclavas and dressed mainly in black, wielded large guns and accosted huddled staff members on the live feed, which eventually cut out.

The national police said on the X social media platform that staff had been evacuated and suspects were arrested after its special units were sent to the studio.

The University of Guayaquil announced the suspension of lessons after videos on social media showed people running for safety.

On Monday, Mr Noboa declared a state of emergency after several explosions and the kidnappings of at least seven police officers.

Mr 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.

He declared a 60-day state of emergency – a tool used by his predecessor to little success – enabling military patrols, including in prisons, and setting a national night-time 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 guards being taken hostage.

In an updated decree published on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Noboa said he recognised an “internal armed conflict” and identified several criminal gangs as terrorist groups, including Los Choneros.

The decree ordered the armed forces to neutralise the groups.

US Representative Michael McCaul, who is the chairman of the House foreign affairs committee, said he is “closely monitoring the events unfolding” in Ecuador.

“President Noboa has my full support as he acts to restore order and counter vicious criminals destabilising the country,” he said.

“The Biden administration must ensure he has the resources to succeed.”

Police reported 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.

“These acts will not remain in impunity,” said police, who also have not given details on whether the kidnappers of the officers have issued demands.

Updated: January 10, 2024, 5:32 AM