updated 4/16/2005 9:56:45 PM ET 2005-04-17T01:56:45

Ecuador’s president called off a state of emergency in the capital on Saturday — less than 24 hours after imposing it — as thousands of Ecuadoreans defied his ban on demonstrations and demanded his resignation.

Speaking on national television, President Lucio Gutierrez said he was annulling the decree he had imposed Friday night suspending civil liberties. He said he maintained his decision to dismiss the Supreme Court because public unrest over the selection of the judges in December had provoked the street marches.

“Little by little, tranquility is returning to the nation,” he said.

In Quito, the capital, residents took to the streets by the thousands, honking horns and banging pots and pans across the city.

'The president has gone crazy'
The military, which under the state of emergency was charged with maintaining public order, was not evident during the peaceful demonstration, which was punctuated by shouts of “Lucio Out!” and “Democracy yes, dictatorship, no!”

“We’re not to going to pay any attention. Let him take his emergency decree and go to another country,” said Teresa Arteaga, one of the protesters.

Gutierrez — a cashiered army colonel elected in 2002 — imposed the emergency after three days of street marches demanding his resignation. He said the unpopular Supreme Court judges — who were appointed by his congressional allies in December in a process widely viewed as unconstitutional — were the cause of the protests.

“The president has gone crazy. He doesn’t even want us to protest. Declaring a state of emergency is incredible,” Roberto Freire, a 40-year-old engineer, said as he shopped at an open-air market.

Gutierrez cites 'national commotion'
In his Friday night address, Gutierrez said he was using the powers granted him by the constitution to dismiss the justices, and that the Supreme Court issue had caused “national commotion.”

The U.S. Embassy said Saturday it was in touch with Gutierrez’s government and had “exhorted” his administration “to show moderation and full respect for the civil rights of all citizens.”

The statement urged Ecuadoreans to abstain from violence and called on “the government and opposition to put aside party interests and unite in an open and respectful dialogue to find a solution that will result in an independent judicial system.”

The European Union issued a similar call.

Quito Mayor Paco Moncayo, a retired army general who is a leader of the opposition Democratic Left party, condemned the state of emergency.

“We are living in a dictatorship and this decree unmasks the dictatorship,” he said.

'Kill or be killed'
In an interview with The Associated Press on Friday, hours before the government issued the decree, Moncayo said Gutierrez was not qualified to lead the nation because he still thinks and acts like a military man.

“He doesn’t understand the language of politics,” Moncayo said. “His logic is kill or be killed. He thinks: You attack me and I attack back.”

Street protests began Wednesday in response to an impromptu suggestion of a local radio station that residents of Quito form a nocturnal pot-banging caravan. They increased in numbers until at least 10,000 people — banging pots and sticks and shouting “Get out, Lucio!” — were marching in the streets as Gutierrez made his announcement Friday.

The court crisis was set in motion in November when the former justices sided with opposition politicians in a failed effort to impeach Gutierrez on corruption charges. Gutierrez then assembled a bloc of 52 lawmakers in the 100-seat unicameral Congress, which voted in December to remove the judges.

Gutierrez said Saturday that the president of Congress had offered to call a special session to ratify the dismissal of the court and debate a measure to depoliticize the selection of new judges. He urged legislators to reach an agreement “in the least time possible so that Ecuador will have the best Supreme Court in its history.”

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