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Ecuador declares new state of emergency as protesters demand talks

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Ecuador declared a new state of emergency on Wednesday as indigenous people marched in the capital Quito to call for a resumption of talks with the government, over two weeks in disruptive and often violent daily demonstrations against rising costs of living.

Negotiations to end the protests that have rocked the South American country were suspended Tuesday — on what would have been their second day — after the government blamed the death of a soldier on protesters.

And as protesters demanded a return to the negotiating table, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in four of the 24 provinces in which the presidency said “most violence is concentrated.”

However, that did not include the capital, where most of the estimated 14,000 protesters have gathered.

Shouting: “We don’t want ten cents, we want results,” several hundred people demonstrated in the city center, near the government seat, which was closed by police, metal fences and barbed wire.

A protester in a traditional red poncho leading a group of men with makeshift shields addressed the rest with a megaphone: “We will stay here until the President of the Republic restores dialogue.”

He added: “If we have to sleep here…we will.”

Lasso has instead imposed a month-long state of emergency on the provinces of Azuay, Imbabura, Sucumbios and Orellana, the general secretary of presidential communications said.

The goal is to create a “safety zone” around the country’s oil wells and protect the food, medicine and fuel supplies in those provinces, as well as the oxygen used in hospitals.

Those provinces are the provinces where “the most violence against people’s physical integrity and fuel supply is concentrated,” the presidency said.

It said the measure, which will deploy the military alongside the police and ban demonstrations, is intended to ensure “the proper functioning of the strategic sectors vital to the economy”.

Lasso had lifted an earlier state of emergency on Saturday in six other provinces – including Pichincha, where the capital is located – as one of several concessions to protesters.

Country ‘hostage’

The protests, which began on June 13, have been costly, with losses of about $50 million a day to the economy, according to the government, which has warned that oil production – which has already been halved – could soon come to a complete halt.

The nationwide expression of dismay at the mounting hardship comes in an economy that has been dealt a serious blow by the coronavirus pandemic.

The protests were called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which expelled three presidents between 1997 and 2005.

Indigenous people make up more than one million of the South American nation’s 17.7 million inhabitants.

The protesters want fuel price cuts, jobs, food price controls and more government spending on health and education.

Over the weekend, Lasso announced other concessions in an effort to open negotiations, including cutting diesel and gasoline prices by ten cents a gallon to $1.80 and $2.45, respectively.

That got short shrift with protesters, who want a cut of $1.50 for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline.

The government has called off talks after the army said on Tuesday that a soldier had died and five police officers and seven soldiers had been injured in an attack by protesters on a tanker escort in the east of the country.

Lasso, hours before surviving a impeachment vote, then accused Conaie leader Leonidas Iza of selfish politics and vowed “we will not negotiate with those holding Ecuador hostage”.

Five protesters have been killed and hundreds on both sides injured in clashes between security forces and protesters that blocked roads and disrupted supply lines.

According to observers, about 150 people have been arrested.

(AFP)

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