Thursday, 17 October, 2019

Ecuador protests: President moves government out of Quito

People face off soldiers as they block a road during protests after Ecuador’s President Lenin Moreno’s government ended four-decade-old fuel subsidies in Lasso Ecuador Ecuador protesters storm parliament as unrest worsens
Deanna Wagner | 11 October, 2019, 03:57

Ecuador's president says his government is negotiating with dozens of indigenous groups that are at the forefront of protests against fuel price increases.

Moreno has support from the business elite and the military appears to remain loyal, but his popularity is less than half of what it was two years ago and Ecuador-ans are mindful that indigenous protests helped topple three presidents before Correa.

It comes hours after President Moreno announced that he had temporarily moved government operations from the capital to the port city of Guayaquil.

Police swooped and fired tear gas as they tried to clear the empty congress building, but protesters remained defiant.

The demonstrators rushed into the meeting room and occupied the podium, but were evicted minutes later by security forces. AFP journalists saw young people trying to break through security barriers, holding wooden shields with the words "indigenous guard" painted on them.

Images from Quito showed protesters hurling petrol bombs and stones, ransacking and vandalising public buildings as well as clashing with the police in running battles late into the night.

Mr Moreno declared a state of emergency last week but has failed to end protests led by indigenous groups.

The decision was made at a highly tense time in the country, with widespread strikes and demonstrations as a result of the announcement of a package of tax and labor reforms on October 1, most of which will negatively impact low-income people.

As of Monday, 477 people had been detained.

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Discussions with leaders of the powerful indigenous umbrella organization CONAIE took place in Guayaquil, some 170 miles (270 kilometres) southwest of the capital.

The president's private secretary Juan Sebastian Roldan said 570 people have been arrested so far, according to The Associated Press. He also offered to free up resources for those hit hard by the rise in fuel prices.

State oil company Petroecuador warned that as many as 165,000 barrels of oil, or almost a third of total production, could be lost each day if the unrest continues. Ecuador, which exited the OPEC global oil cartel last week citing economic constraints, produces 531,000 bpd.

In a tweet, Correa said Moreno was "finished" and called for elections. Witnesses said that in Lasso, south of the capital Quito, indigenous groups captured and took away several soldiers after violent confrontations.

All seven countries have right-wing governments that see Moreno's moderate socialist administration as an important regional ally against Venezuela.

Correa meanwhile called for early elections, citing "serious social upheaval", and denied Moreno's accusations that he was fomenting a coup. "There's no coup here. Conflicts in democracy are resolved at the polls", the Belgium-based Correa said in a video published on social media.

A nationwide strike by transport workers and taxi drivers against the elimination of the subsidies by the government Tuesday, as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to obtain loans, led to protests and violence.

The government's decision to cut fuel subsidies last week ignited the unrest.

Ecuador, which exited the OPEC global oil cartel last week, produced over 500,000 barrels per day in exports in the first six months of the year, worth $4.6 billion.