Ecuador defense ministry spat ends in shake-up

Ecuador's Ricardo Patino speaks during a press conference in Quito on February 5, 2016 (AFP Photo/Rodrigo Buendia) (AFP/File)

Quito (AFP) - Ecuador's top diplomat, Ricardo Patino, will take over as defense minister after the previous chief resigned in a spat over cuts to the military pension fund by President Rafael Correa, officials said Thursday.

Patino, a close ally of the leftist president, has held a series of cabinet posts in his administration, and has been highly visible as foreign minister for his outspoken defense of Ecuador's decision to grant exile to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in its London embassy.

He replaces Fernando Cordero, who resigned Tuesday after Correa fired his top military brass for interfering in "administrative matters."

The dispute appeared to stem from statements by the head of the joint chiefs of staff, General Luis Garzon, criticizing the government's intervention in a real estate deal between the army pension fund and the environment ministry.

Correa's administration slapped a $41 million charge on the pension fund for allegedly overpricing a parcel of land in southwestern Ecuador.

Current Culture Minister Guillaume Long will take over the foreign ministry, said state news agency Andes.