Indigenous groups in Ecuador seized eight police officers yesterday amid protests over fuel price hikes which officials said have so far killed five people including an indigenous leader.
The uniformed officers, including a woman, were seized during a tense stand-off in Quito and put on display before an angry crowd at the capital’s House of Culture, where indigenous groups taking part in the protests are camped.
President Lenin Moreno was expected to resume talks with indigenous leaders after a week of protests against fuel price hikes escalated into deadly clashes and disrupted oil output.
Street battles between the mostly indigenous demonstrators and security forces have marred mass protests against the fuel hikes in Quito over the past two days.
The dead include Inocencio Tucumbi, an indigenous leader from the Andean province of Cotopaxi, the Ombudsman’s office said in a statement.
“We are calling on the national government to eradicate violence and guarantee the exercise of the right to social protest in a peaceful manner,” it said.
The first victim was hit by a vehicle on Sunday in the southern province of Azuay, and the other four all died during clashes in Quito.
“Without a doubt, this is going to be solved very soon,” Moreno earlier said in a video broadcast on state television.
But indigenous leader Salvador Quishpe said the “demonstration is ongoing, it has not ended.”
The unrest threatened to inflict wider damage on an already weakened economy.
The energy ministry announced it was shutting down one of the country’s two domestic oil pipelines, effectively suspending two-thirds of its distribution of crude.
“Due to this shutdown, we are analysing the possibility of declaring force majeure,” to avoid the country incurring penalties for postponing crude shipments, the ministry said in a statement.
Protesters seized three oil facilities in the Amazon earlier this week.
Ecuador, which exited Opec last week citing economic constraints, produced more than 500,000 barrels-per-day (bpd) – which was worth some $4.6bn in exports in the first six months of the year.
Moreno has accused his predecessor and ex-ally Rafael Correa along with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an “attempted coup d’etat.”
“The evidence points precisely to him (Correa) as a key player,” Moreno insisted in an interview with CNN on Wednesday.
In Washington, a senior US official backed the allegations and voiced hope that all sides in Ecuador would sort out their differences peacefully.
“Unfortunately the Correa people with their friends are provoking demonstrations and some degree of violence there,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Maduro, a leftist firebrand whom Washington is seeking to oust, has denounced allegations of involvement as absurd.
Moreno has drawn support, however, from seven Latin American countries — including Argentina, Brazil and Colombia.
Correa, meanwhile, called for early elections and denied he was attempting to oust Moreno.
“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.
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