Ecuador president insists 'total' innocence as impeachment trial opens
Ecuador's President Guillermo Lasso declared his "total, evident and unquestionable innocence" as his impeachment trial over corruption allegations began in parliament on Tuesday.
The majority left-wing opposition has accused the right-wing president of knowing about alleged corruption in public companies in which his brother-in-law Danilo Carrera and a drug trafficking-accused businessman have been implicated.
"There is no evidence, nor relevant testimonies. Rather, all there is is information that proves my total, evident and unquestionable innocence," Lasso told the unicameral legislature.
His impeachment trial is taking place amid a spike in violence related to drug trafficking in the South American country and widespread anger over the rising cost of living.
The chamber would need a two-thirds majority -- 92 out of 137 members -- to impeach Lasso, who argues that the allegations date to before he became president in May 2021.
Last week, 88 legislators voted in favor of pursuing the impeachment trial, when a simple majority was needed to open proceedings.
"Ecuadorans demand that we solve their daily problems and end this irrational confrontation that exhausts the population's patience, increases unrest and weakens our democracy," Lasso wrote on Twitter before heading to parliament.
He addressed legislators following two hours of debate in parliament.
Hundreds of the president's supporters protested peacefully outside parliament, where there was a notable police presence.
Protesters waved Ecuadoran flags, held up banners demanding democracy and shouted angry chants against the legislators.
Lasso is accused of embezzling money through the state shipping company FLOPEC.
"The only thing that interests (the opposition) is the destabilization" of the country's institutions, Interior Minister Henry Cucalon told reporters.
The Organization of American States (OAS) in a statement urged parliament to "guarantee justice and respect the rules of due process" in the hearing.
If impeached, Lasso would become only the second Ecuadoran president to be thus removed from office, after Juan de Dios Martinez in 1933.