QUITO, Ecuador: Six months ago, Abdala Bucaram was seen as a hero, a warrior for the rural poor of Ecuador and, thanks to his wacky campaign style, something of an oddity. But now that he is president of the small South American nation, and has instituted a host of austerity measures to rein in the country's ballooning deficit, the charm of the man Ecuadorians refer to as "El Loco" is wearing thin. Two million strikers were dispersed by police tear gas Wednesday as they filled the streets of the capital jeering and waving flags. Originally intended as a protest against the austerity plan, which has raised rates for electricity, fuel and phone service by as much as 300 percent, the strike's focus soon shifted to a call for Bucaram's ouster. Cries of "Thief, thief!" echoed through the streets in front of the presidential palace as the crowds chanted that Bucaram was an embarrassment to the country and should be impeached. Characteristically for a leader who rose to prominence as a champion of the poor, giving away bags of groceries, Bucaram tried to diffuse the crisis by applauding it and promising to raise wages and freeze gasoline prices. Strike leaders dismissed Bucaram's promises as a weak attempt to save his regime, while Congress called an emergency session for Thursday night to discuss his removal from office. Bucaram probably won't go quietly. Ecuadorans point to his fast-footed resilience. In one instance, after calling an ex-president a burro, he was forced to issue an apology. Which he did -- asking forgiveness from donkeys.