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Armed men stormed onto the set of a public television channel in Ecuador as it broadcast live on Tuesday, threatening people and shouting they had “bombs,” as others reported hearing gunshots, the Associated Press reported.
The men, with faces covered, entered the set of the TC Television network in the port city of Guayaquil. It was just one of several attacks including explosions and the abduction of police officers after the government imposed a state of emergency Monday in the wake of the apparent escape of a powerful gang leader from prison.
The incidents have heightened security concerns in the South American nation as authorities struggle to fight criminal gangs and drug traffickers, CNN reported.
On Sunday, José Adolfo Macías Villamar, leader of the feared Los Choneros drug cartel, escaped from jail in Guayaquil, prompting the government to deploy more than 3,000 officers to search for him.
The cartel leader – also known as Fito – was sentenced in 2011 to 34 years in prison on multiple charges, including murder and narco-trafficking.
President Daniel Noboa said the state of emergency would last for 60 days and includes a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. local time. Noboa did not mention Fito’s escape, but ordered authorities to take control of Ecuador’s restive prison system.
Fito’s escape marks one of the first challenges facing Noboa, the son of a banana tycoon who took office in November following a race marked by political assassinations. He has said his priority is to combat criminal gangs and the spiraling violence they have unleashed on the country over the past few years.
Ecuador was once known as an “island of peace,” despite being nestled between two of the world’s largest cocaine producers, Colombia and Peru. But in recent years, the country has become an important transit point for cocaine smuggling and a strategic spot for drug traffickers to launder money.
Analysts said that many Ecuadorian gangs, including Los Choneros, have partnered with foreign criminal networks, such as Mexican cartels and the Albanian mafia, further destabilizing the security situation in the country.
Authorities have struggled to confront gangs inside Ecuador’s overcrowded prisons, where inmates often take control of branches of the facilities and operate networks from behind bars.