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Wednesday, October 09, 2019, 11:02
Protesters move into Ecuador's capital; president moves out
By Associated Press
Wednesday, October 09, 2019, 11:02 By Associated Press

Indigenous anti-government protesters arrive by foot in Quito, Ecuador, Oct 8, 2019. Ecuador has endured days of popular upheaval since President Lenin Moreno scrapped fuel price subsidies. (DOLORES OCHOA / AP)

QUITO, Ecuador — Thousands of indigenous people, some carrying long sticks, converged on Ecuador's capital Tuesday as anti-government protests and clashes led the president to move his besieged administration out of Quito.

The South American country of 17 million people appeared to be at a dangerous impasse, paralyzed by a lack of public transport and blockaded roads that were taking a toll on an already vulnerable economy.

The government declared an overnight curfew around key state installations and government buildings as well as vital infrastructure such as airports and oil refineries

Violence has persisted since last week, when President Lenín Moreno's decision to end subsidies led to a sharp increase in fuel prices. Protesters seized some oil installations and the state oil company, Petroecuador, warned that production losses could reach 165,000 barrels a day, or nearly one-third of total production, if insecurity continues.

The government declared an overnight curfew around key state installations and government buildings as well as vital infrastructure such as airports and oil refineries.

Earlier Tuesday, protesters broke through police barriers and some entered the empty congress building in Quito. Police fired tear gas and forced them to retreat.

READ MORE: Interpol rejects Ecuador request to call for Correa's arrest

Indigenous protesters occupied two water treatment plants in the city of Ambato, south of the capital, raising concern about supply to residents, according to municipal authorities.

On Monday night, hundreds of people rampaged through the Duran area near the port city of Guayaquil, looting pharmacies, electronic appliance stores and other buildings.

In another part of Ecuador, police abandoned an armored vehicle to protesters who set it on fire. In multiple areas, rioters smashed car windows, broke into shops and confronted security forces.

Some video footage has shown police beating protesters on the ground. Opponents have accused Moreno's government of human rights abuses in its attempts to quell disturbances.

Moreno met with Cabinet ministers in Guayaquil on Tuesday after moving government operations there from Quito because of security problems. In comments broadcast by the Ecuavisa television network, he said he had the support of Ecuador's institutions and thanked them "for their defense of the democratic system."

ALSO READ: Ecuador's vice president resigns amid corruption scandal

In a televised address late Monday, the president said he was the target of a coup attempt, but would not back down from his decision to cut subsidies contributing to huge public debt that soared before he took office. The cuts were among measures announced as part of a US$4.2 billion funding plan with the International Monetary Fund, which said the package will help the poor by strengthening Ecuador's economy and generating jobs.

An armored vehicle drives towards a crowd of anti-government demonstrators protesting against President Lenin Moreno and his economic policies, in Quito, Ecuador, Oct 8, 2019. (FERNANDO VERGARA / AP)

Indigenous groups have condemned what they call the government's "closed-door agreement" with the IMF, saying in a statement that austerity measures would deepen economic inequality.

The groups said they were carrying out "civil disobedience" and had detained some soldiers and police encroaching on indigenous territories. But they criticized vandalism and looting "by external actors who are not affiliated with our movement or goals."

Several military commanders stood behind Moreno during his address Monday night, underscoring the armed forces' support.

Moreno called for dialogue to resolve the crisis. At the same time, he said his leftist predecessor and former ally, Rafael Correa, is trying to destabilize Ecuador with the help of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Ecuador is among dozens of nations calling for Maduro's ouster.

ALSO READ: Ecuador expels Venezuela ambassador after official says Moreno lied

Maduro dismissed the claim in a Tuesday evening television appearance. He jokingly called himself "Super Maduro" and wiggled his dark mustache in a mocking suggestion that he can summon superpowers to topple governments.

Anti-government demonstrators chant slogans against President Lenin Moreno and his economic policies during a protest in Quito, Ecuador, Oct 8, 2019. (FERNANDO VERGARA / AP)

"If you, Mr Lenín Moreno, want to see the reality of what's happening, take that economic package back and engage in a dialogue with the people of Ecuador," Maduro added. "Open a dialogue with the peasants, workers and indigenous people."

Seven Latin American countries — Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru and Paraguay — expressed support for Moreno and denounced Maduro for allegedly trying to "destabilize our democracies." Colombia has said previously that Venezuela is providing refuge to Colombian guerrillas, an allegation that the Venezuelan government denies.

The Organization of American States called for talks to end the unrest in Ecuador and said Moreno was constitutionally elected.

Some 570 people have been arrested in Ecuador for crimes including attacks on people and property, according to Juan Sebastián Roldán, the president's private secretary.

The disturbances have spread from transport workers to students and then to indigenous demonstrators, an ominous turn for the government. Indigenous protesters played a major role in the 2005 resignation of Ecuador's president at the time, Lucio Gutiérrez, though the military's tacit approval was key to his removal.

The country's biggest indigenous group, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, said Moreno's government had failed to alleviate the welfare of Ecuador's "most vulnerable" people. The group made similar complaints about Correa, his predecessor.

"We have shown throughout Ecuador's history that indigenous peoples have the power to shut down the country when our rights are put at risk and power is abused," the indigenous groups said in their statement.

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