Clashes as Ecuador Protests Continue Despite Small Concession | Protest news

Police in Ecuador’s capital Quito fired tear gas to disperse indigenous protesters who tried to storm Congress on the 11th day of paralyzing demonstrations over fuel prices and the cost of living.

The clashes on Thursday came after protesters won a concession from the Ecuadorian government when President Guillermo Lasso, isolating himself because of a COVID-19 infection, granted them access to a cultural center emblematic of indigenous struggle, but commanded by the police over the weekend.

However, later in the day, a group of indigenous protesters, led by women, made their way to Congress only to be repulsed by police as violent clashes broke out.

Police fired tear gas as protesters threw rocks and fireworks.

Leonidas Iza, a protest leader who leads the CONAIE indigenous group and who had previously hailed the government’s concession of the cultural center as a “triumph of the struggle”, expressed concern about the clashes.

“This is a very bad sign as we asked our base to march peacefully,” he said.

The protests, which began on June 13 amid rising prices for fuel, food and other basics, claimed the lives of three people and saw the government impose a state of emergency in six of the country’s 24 provinces.

An estimated 14,000 protesters are taking part in the mass discontent show, and about 10,000 of them are in Quito, which is under a nighttime curfew.

Protesters’ demands include a cut in already subsidized fuel prices, which have risen sharply in recent months, as well as jobs, food price controls and more public spending on health and education.

Protesters attend meeting with indigenous leaders before anti-government protest
The government of Ecuador allowed thousands of protesters to enter the headquarters of a major cultural organization [Karen Toro/ Reuters]

‘For the sake of dialogue’

Francisco Jimenez, Ecuador’s government minister, announced the concession of the cultural center on Thursday, saying it was done “because of dialogue and peace.”

In return, he called for people and goods such as food and medicine to be able to move freely and called for “stop roadblocks, violent demonstrations and attacks”.

But Jimenez said it was not possible to lift the state of emergency as demanded by the protesters.

Lasso’s government says it is also responding to other demands from protesters, including subsidized fertilizers, forgiveness of bank debts and increased budgets for health and education. But he ruled out cutting fuel prices, saying it would cost the state an unaffordable $1 billion a year.

Ecuador, a small South American country rife with drug trafficking and related violence, has been hit hard by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty – all exacerbated by the pandemic.

The protests, which involved burning tires and tree branches by vocal protesters brandishing sticks, spears and makeshift shields, paralyzed the capital and severely damaged the economy with barricades on major roads.

Wounded protester receives medical care during an anti-government protest in Quito, Ecuador
An injured protester receives medical care during an anti-government protest in Quito, Ecuador, June 23, 2022 [Santiago Arcos/ Reuters]

The Alliance of Human Rights Organizations said a 38-year-old man died Wednesday in the southern city of Tarqui in clashes between protesters and police, accused of violent tactics.

Dozens of people were also injured in demonstrations across the country that indigenous groups have vowed to continue until their demands are met.

Police, for their part, said the man died of a medical condition that occurred “in the context of the demonstrations”.

Two other people died on Monday and Tuesday, according to the Alliance, which also reported 92 wounded and 94 civilians arrested in 11 days of protests.

Authorities say 117 police and soldiers were injured.

On Wednesday night, about 300 protesters occupied a power plant in southern Ecuador and briefly took its operators hostage, officials said.

Official data showed the economy was losing about $50 million a day due to the protests, not counting oil production – the country’s main export – which was also affected.

Growers of flowers, another of Ecuador’s main exports, complained that their products are rotting because trucks can’t reach their destinations.

CONAIE led two weeks of protests in 2019, in which 11 people died and more than 1,000 were injured, causing economic losses of around $800 million before the then-president abandoned plans to reduce fuel price subsidies.

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