Ecuador president declares 'state of emergency' over fuel protests

Quito (AFP) –


Ecuadoran President Lenin Moreno declared a "state of emergency" across the country on Thursday following mass protests against a rise in fuel prices after the government decided to scrap subsidies.

Moreno told reporters he had taken the measure "in order to safeguard the security of citizens and to avoid chaos."

The protests, led by the transport sector but including students and other groups, have paralyzed public transportation in some areas, while there have been clashes between police and demonstrators blocking roads.

Government minister Maria Paula Romo said 19 people have been arrested.

The demonstrations came in response to increases of up to 120 percent in fuel prices after the government eliminated subsidies as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to obtain loans despite its high public debt.

Those subsidies were costing the government $1.3 billion a year.

The IMF agreement, signed in March, allowed Ecuador to borrow $4.2 billion.

The emergency measure allows the government to restrict freedoms, such as movement, to employ the armed forces to maintain order and to censor the press.

It will be in place for 60 days, after which it can be extended for a further 30 days, the government said.

Moreno said he wouldn't allow protesters to "impose chaos."

He also called for an end to "acts of vandalism and acts of violence."