Sat, Mar 10, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Ecuadorans march against Correa’s mining policies

NATIVE PROTEST:A powerful indigenous peoples’ alliance is trying to safeguard the Amazon environment and preserve the native way of life

AFP, EL PANGUI, ECUADOR

Hundreds of native Ecuadorans began a cross-country march on Thursday to protest policies by President Rafael Correa they say will result in more mining in the Amazon region and threaten the environment and their way of life.

Protests were prompted partly by a recent agreement between Ecuador and China for industrial copper mining in the Amazon’s Ecuacorriente Zamora-Chinchipe region.

The march was organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), a powerful umbrella group that represents natives from around the country.

“People are very motivated, there will always be more people in each village,” Zamora-Chinchipe Governor Salvador Quishpe said.

The march began in the Zamora-Chinchipe town of El Pangui, 700km south of Quito.

The natives plan to march over the next weeks through several provinces on their way to the capital Quito, gathering protesters along the way. They plan to reach Quito on March 22.

Protests led by CONAIE, which claims to represent a third of Ecuador’s population of more than 14 million, have already toppled two presidents, Abdala Bucaram in 1997 and Jamil Mahuad in 2000.

The group supported the leftist Correa when he was elected in 2007, but later accused him of abandoning their interests in favor of free-market policies.

Separately, thousands of Correa supporters held a counter-rally in front of the presidential palace in the capital Quito.

Correa has accused CONAIE of trying to destabilize his government. He blasted the start of the march as a “complete failure.”

Correa told the crowd that the marches “up to now have been a resounding failure,” and claimed that the “supposed extreme left” and the “extreme right” have joined forces to destabilize his government.

The president still enjoys popular support for social programs he developed and for renegotiating contracts with multinational oil companies.

CONAIE president Humberto Cholango said that the goal was not to topple Correa, but rather to get him to support laws protecting water resources and to consult native communities over major mining projects.

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