Protesters on Monday clashed with Ecuadoran forces as they marched toward the capital to demonstrate against soaring fuel prices, with the government announcing three oil facilities had been seized, slashing production by 12 percent.
Riot police and the military used tear gas to try to disperse marchers in the town of Machachi on the outskirts of the capital, Quito, after they blocked roads with burning tires and barricades ahead of a protest set for today.
“More than 20,000 indigenous people will be arriving in Quito,” said Jaime Vargas, leader of the umbrella indigenous organization CONAIE.
In 2000, CONAIE was key to driving then-Ecuadorean president Jamil Mahuad from office during another economic crisis.
Other protesters attempted to force their way into the National Legislative Assembly in the capital, and committed “acts of vandalism in the vicinity,” the body said.
The clashes came as Ecuadoran Ministry of Energy said that activities in three oil fields in the Amazon region — one operated by private firm Petrobell and the others by state company Petroamazonas — had been suspended “due to the seizure of the facilities by groups of people outside the operation.”
The seizures affected 12 percent of the country’s oil production, or 63,250 barrels of crude per day, the ministry said in a statement that did not identify the groups responsible.
In a radio and television address, Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno accused his predecessor and ex-ally Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an “attempted coup d’etat” and of “using some indigenous groups, taking advantage of their mobilization to plunder and destroy.”
He added that government business had temporarily moved to the port city of Guayaquil.
Protesters from southern Andean provinces, some armed with sticks and whips, were travelling to the capital in pick-up trucks and on foot, CONAIE said, while other indigenous groups were set to arrive from the north.
The protests — the largest in a decade in Ecuador are being led by transport unions, but include students and others.
The country has been rocked by demonstrations after increases of up to 120 percent in fuel prices came into force on Thursday.
They have so far left one civilian dead and 77 people injured, the majority of them security forces, while 477 people have been detained, the government said.
Moreno scrapped fuel subsidies as part of an agreement with the IMF to obtain loans despite Ecuador’s high public debt.
Nelson Erazo, the leader of the Popular Front of workers and students, has said “the people’s actions will not stop here if the government does not change its policy.”
Moreno on Thursday declared a state of emergency that allows the government to restrict movement, to use the armed forces to maintain order and to censor the media.
“This is a very difficult situation, that could lead us into less stable situations, to governments that fall,” said Simon Pachano, a political scientist at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences in Quito.
CONAIE warned that security forces entering indigenous areas would be captured and held.
Indigenous leaders said they have been holding several dozen soldiers since Sunday.
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