Ecuador's indigenous converge on capital to protest fuel hikes

Quito (AFP) –


Thousands of demonstrators converged on the Ecuadoran capital Quito on Tuesday as intensifying protests against soaring fuel prices slashed oil output by a third and forced under-fire President Lenin Moreno to vacate his government headquarters.

Moreno's declaration of a state of emergency last week has failed to deter the advance of indigenous protesters who have repeatedly clashed with security forces on their journey to the capital from the far reaches of the country on foot and in pick-up trucks.

Oil production fell 31 percent following the outbreak of social unrest last week and the subsequent seizure of three oil facilities in the Amazon, the energy ministry said Tuesday.

Production losses at the state-owned Petroamazonas "will reach 165,000 barrels per day, the ministry said in a statement. Ecuador, which exited the OPEC international oil cartel last week citing economic constraints, produces 531,000 bpd.

The protesters are planning a major demonstration in the capital on Wednesday along with transport and student unions.

Moreno moved his government headquarters to the coastal city of Guayaquil on Monday after protesters tried to occupy the legislature.

Addressing the nation, Moreno accused his predecessor and ex-ally Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an "attempted coup d'etat."

They were using "indigenous groups, taking advantage of their mobilization to plunder and destroy," he charged.

- Call for early election -

Correa meanwhile called for early elections, citing "serious social upheaval", and denied Moreno's accusations that he was fomenting a coup.

"There's no coup here. Conflicts in democracy are resolved at the polls," the Belgium-based Correa said in a video published on social media.

Correa, who was president of the Andean nation from 2007-17, is wanted in his homeland on suspicion of ordering the kidnapping of a political opponent while he was president.

Some 20,000 protesters were due to arrive in the capital by Wednesday, according to indigenous umbrella organization CONAIE.

Thousands had already reached the capital on Monday and camped in parks or occupied buildings.

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

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

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

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

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