Ecuador declares new state of emergency as protesters demand talks
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Ecuador called a fresh state of emergency Wednesday as Indigenous people marched in the capital Quito to call for a restart of talks with the government, more than two weeks into disruptive and often violent daily rallies against rising living costs.
Negotiations to end the protests that have rocked the South American country were suspended on Tuesday -- on what would have been their second day -- after the government blamed the death of a soldier on demonstrators.
And while protesters demanded a return to the negotiating table, President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency in four of the 24 provinces in which the presidency said the "most violence is concentrated."
That did not, however, include the capital, where most of an estimated 14,000 protesters have congregated.
Chanting: "We don't want ten cents, we want results," several hundred people demonstrated in the city center, near the seat of government, which was blocked off by police, metal fencing and razor wire.
A protester with a traditional red poncho leading a group of men with makeshift shields addressed the rest by megaphone: "We will stay here until the President of the Republic reinstates the dialogue."
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He added: "If we need to sleep here... we will."
Lasso has instead imposed a month-long state of emergency on the provinces of Azuay, Imbabura, Sucumbios and Orellana, the general secretary of presidential communication said.
The aim is to create a "security zone" around the country's oil wells and protect food, medicine and fuel supplies in those provinces, as well as oxygen used in hospitals.
Those provinces are the ones where the "most violence against the physical integrity of people and the provision of fuel is concentrated," said the presidency.
It said the measure, in which the military will be deployed alongside police and demonstrations are banned, aims to ensure "the correct functioning of the strategic sectors that are vital for the economy."
Lasso had lifted a previous state of emergency in six other provinces -- including Pichincha, where the capital lies -- on Saturday in one of several concessions to protesters.
Country held 'hostage'
The protests, which began on June 13, have been costly, with losses of some $50 million per day to the economy according to the government, which has warned oil production -- already halved -- could come to a complete halt soon.
The nationwide show of discontent against deepening hardship comes in an economy dealt a serious blow by the coronavirus pandemic.
The protests were called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), credited with unseating three presidents between 1997 and 2005.
Indigenous people make up more than a million of the South American nation's 17.7 million inhabitants.
The protesters want fuel price cuts, jobs, food price controls and more public spending on healthcare and education.
Over the weekend, Lasso announced other concessions in a bid to unlock talks, including a ten-cents-per-gallon cut in diesel and gasoline prices to $1.80 and $2.45 respectively.
That received short shrift from protesters, who want a reduction to $1.50 for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline.
The government called off talks after the military said on Tuesday a soldier died and five police and seven soldiers were injured in an attack by demonstrators on a tanker truck escort in the country's east.
Lasso, hours before surviving an impeachment vote, then accused Conaie leader Leonidas Iza of self-serving politics and vowed "we will not negotiate with those who hold Ecuador hostage."
Five demonstrators have died and hundreds on both sides have been wounded in clashes between the security forces and protesters blockading roads and disrupting supply lines.
Some 150 people have been arrested, according to observers.
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