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Workers lie on the floor as hooded and armed people take over a tv studio of Ecuador's TV station TC during a live broadcast. Image Credit: Reuters

Quito: Ecuador's president gave orders Tuesday to "neutralize" criminal gangs after gunmen opened fire in a TV studio and bandits threatened random executions on a second day of terror in the violence-riddled country.

Daniel Noboa declared the country to be in a state of "internal armed conflict" after gangsters declared "war" in an escalating security crisis sparked by the prison escape Sunday of one of Ecuador's most powerful narco bosses.

Long a peaceful haven sandwiched between top cocaine exporters Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has seen violence explode in recent years as enemy gangs with links to Mexican and Colombian cartels vie for control.

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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. Image Credit: Reuters

Noboa, 36, came to office late last year on a pledge to fight rampant drug-related crime and violence.

After the escape of Jose Adolfo Macias, aka "Fito" - leader of Ecuador's biggest gang Los Choneros - Noboa on Monday declared a countrywide state of emergency and nighttime curfew.

Gangs retaliated, taking hostage police officers, setting off explosions in several cities and on Tuesday storming a studio of TC television in the port city of Guayaquil with guns and explosives.

Hooded attackers fired gunshots during a live TC broadcast as a woman could be heard pleading: "Don't shoot, please don't shoot."

The intruders forced terrified crew onto the ground and a person could be heard screaming as the studio lights went out but the broadcast continued.

Police entered the studio after about 30 minutes of chaos and were alerted by someone to "a wounded companion."

Thirteen people were arrested, police said, adding that no one had been killed or injured in the raid.

'Terrorist organizations'

Afterward, Noboa ordered military operations "to neutralize" organized crime groups he described as "terrorist organizations and belligerent non-state actors."

On Monday, he had vowed to bring the fight to the cartels, but retaliation came swiftly.

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Daniel Noboa declared the country to be in a state of 'internal armed conflict.' Image Credit: AFP

Authorities reported multiple explosions and cars set alight on Tuesday, including in Quito, and said seven police officers had been kidnapped.

A chilling video circulating on social media showed three of the kidnapped officers sitting on the ground with a gun pointed at them as one is forced to read a statement addressed to Noboa.

"You declared war, you will get war," the clearly terrified officer reads. "You declared a state of emergency. We declare police, civilians and soldiers to be the spoils of war."

The statement added that anyone found on the street after 11:00 pm (0500 GMT) "will be executed."

There was panic on the streets, with shops and businesses in various cities closing early and residents rushing home as face-to-face classes were suspended countrywide until Friday.

Brian Nichols, the top US diplomat for Latin America, said Washington was "extremely concerned" by the violence and kidnappings, pledging to provide assistance and "remain in close contact" with Noboa's team.

'Return peace to all Ecuadorans'

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Soldiers patrol the city's historic centre following an outbreak of violence. Image Credit: Reuters

A manhunt is under way for Fito, who had been serving a 34-year sentence for organized crime, drug trafficking and murder.

The 44-year-old is believed to have escaped just hours before police arrived to conduct an inspection of the Guayaquil prison where he was held.

On Tuesday, officials said another narco boss - Los Lobos leader Fabricio Colon Pico - has also escaped since his arrest last Friday for alleged involvement in a plot to assassinate Ecuador's attorney general.

Unrest has broken out at several penitentiaries, and on Tuesday the SNAI prisons authority said 125 guards and 14 administrative officers were being held by inmates in five cities.

Unverified videos circulating on social media purported to show captives armed with knives executing at least two guards.

The SNAI has not commented on the images.

The security forces in turn have sent out videos of numerous prison raids since Sunday, with hundreds of inmates amassed in courtyards in their underwear, hands on their heads.

Noboa had vowed on Monday to "not negotiate with terrorists nor rest until we return peace to all Ecuadorans."

Drug violence has taken a heavy toll on the South American country once considered a bastion of peace, but now a key stop on the US- and Europe-bound cocaine trade.

The murder rate quadrupled from 2018 to 2022. Last year was the most violent yet with more than 7,800 homicides in the country of about 17 million people and 220 tons of drugs seized, a new record.

Since February 2021, clashes between prisoners have left more than 460 dead, many beheaded or burnt alive.

Chile, Colombia and Brazil sent messages of support for Noboa on Tuesday.