ECUADOR The press has been subjected to pressure resulting from domestic political conflicts and investigations into allegations of high-level government corruption. President Sixto Duran Ballen has been openly critical of the press's position. On August 30, he accused the media of "continuing to divide public opinion, censuring everybody, because the national press likes to heap fuel on the fire." On August 29, several journalists were assaulted by members of the National Palace guard while trying to gather information. Members of the presidential guard, shouting insults and brandishing firearms, punched a number of news photographers and cameramen and threatened to lock them up in the palace jail. The clashes came after the guard commander, Vice Admiral Francisco Espinosa ordered security that local papers called exaggerated. In one incident, a photographer for the newspaper El Comercio, Alfredo Lagla, was physically attacked by one guard officer while trying to take a picture. According to official sources, two members of the guard were removed from their posts as a result of the incidents. Elsewhere, editors of several news media in Guayaquil were summoned to give depositions about a conversation with now-exiled Ecuadorean Vice President Albert Dahik in which he was quoted as accusing, in general terms, certain legislators and judges of extortion and corrupt behavior. In a bid to impugn the editors' testimony, an effort was made to demonstrate inconsistencies and contradictions in their statements. Opposition legislators charged that in a misuse of reserve funds, $25,000 had been paid as downpayment for acquisition of a radio station owned by journalist Gonzalo Rosero. Dahik has repeatedly maintained that the payment was for services rendered and not, as the radio station itself contended, for an aborted acquisition of the station. A court ordered the arrest of the former foreign minister in Duran's administration for allegedly negotiating the purchase of the radio station and refund of the money to the government. Dahik has denied any journalist has received any payment whatsoever for professional services having to do with issues of national interest or, which would have been worse still, with last February's military border conflict with Peru. But journalists' associations have urged the government to put such allegations to rest once and for all, as they categorically maintain they are unfounded. On the question of the use of reserve funds, Dahik said he would never comment on this, as to do so would be against the law. His refusal has created deep-seated political unrest and has ignited media protests, given the allegations made about the use of such funds. In another area, the Lima newspaper Expreso in early September quoted a Pentagon source in Washington as saying payments totaling a half-million dollars had been made to prominent Ecuadorean journalists for allegedly assisting the government with political information during the armed conflict with Peru. The charge was denied by U.S. authorities in both Washington and Quito. The daily Diario HOY accused officials of the Modernization Council of withdrawing previously contracted advertising linage as punishment for the newspaper's having published a series of articles alleging secret handling of the privatization of the national airline. Licensing of journalists and a right of reply remain on the books, but a loophole in regard to the former and lack of enabling legislation in the latter case have fortunately prevented their implementation.