Clashes as indigenous march on Ecuador capital over fuel price hike

Machachi (Ecuador) (AFP) –


Hundreds of indigenous people and farmers clashed with Ecuador's security forces Monday as they marched toward the capital, Quito, to protest soaring fuel prices.

Riot police and the military used tear gas to try to disperse marchers in the town of Machachi on the outskirts of Quito.

Chanting protesters blocked roads in the town with burning tires and barricades.

"More than 20,000 indigenous people will be arriving in Quito," said Jaime Vargas, leader of the umbrella indigenous organization CONAIE.

CONAIE was key -- back in 2000 -- to driving from office then-president Jamil Mahuad during another economic crisis.

Ecuador has been rocked by days of demonstrations after increases of up to 120 percent in fuel prices came into force on October 3.

Thousands of indigenous marchers are converging on Quito for a protest scheduled for Wednesday, according to umbrella indigenous organization CONAIE.

Protesters from southern Andean provinces, some armed with sticks and whips, began heading to the capital on Sunday aboard pick-up trucks and on foot.

They said other indigenous groups were moving toward the capital from the north to join Wednesday's protest in Quito.

The protests -- the largest in a decade in the nation with Pacific, Andean and Amazon basin regions -- are being led by transport unions but include students and others.

The protests have so far left one civilian dead and 77 injured, the majority of them security forces, the government said. A total of 477 people have been detained.

The government of President Lenin Moreno scrapped subsidies as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to obtain loans despite Ecuador's high public debt.

"I am committed to a dialogue with you, my indigenous brothers, with whom we share so many priorities," the president said in a radio address Sunday.

"Let's talk about how to use our national resources to help those in the greatest need," Moreno stressed.

But Vargas shot back: "We are sick of so much dialogue...There have been thousands of calls, thousands and thousands of calls, and until this point (of the mass march), we have not brought out our response."

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."

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

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

Moreno -- who blames the deterioration in the country's finances on his predecessor -- declared a state of emergency on Thursday.

The emergency measure allows the government to restrict movement, to use the armed forces to maintain order and to censor the press.

"This is a very difficult situation, that could lead us into less stable situations, to governments that fall," said Sinom Pachano, a political scientist at Quito's FLACSO university.

CONAIE said it was invoking a state of emergency in indigenous lands and warned that security forces entering indigenous areas would be captured and held.

Indigenous leaders claimed they were holding several dozen soldiers since Sunday.