Talks in Ecuador to end Indigenous protests
Ecuador's president met a small group of Indigenous leaders Friday for talks seeking to end countrywide fuel price protests that surrounded the capital Quito with road blockades for a fifth day.
As the talks were under way at the presidential palace, black smoke from burning tires rose from a road to the Quito international airport, which operated as usual despite the demonstrations.
Indigenous people, who make up over a million of Ecuador's 17.7 million inhabitants, embarked on an open-ended anti-government protest Monday that has since been joined by students, workers and other discontented groups.
Oil producer Ecuador has been hit by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
"Without dialogue there is no way out," Orlando Tipan, leader of the Unoric Indigenous group, said after talks with President Guillermo Lasso, a rightwing ex-banker who took office a year ago.
He did not say what, if anything, the talks had achieved.
"We don’t want bloodshed, more vandalism, more violence. Ecuador is a country of peace," added Unoric secretary Cesar Perez.
- Rotting flowers -
The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which called the protests, has said it would maintain the blockades until the government meets a list of 10 demands.
Fuel prices in Ecuador have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from $1 to $1.90 per gallon (3.8 liters) and rising from $1.75 to $2.55 for petrol.
Conaie wants the price reduced to $1.50 for diesel and $2.10 for petrol, a demand the government has so far rejected.
Conaie is credited with helping topple three Ecuadoran presidents between 1997 and 2005.
Its other demands include food price controls and renegotiating the personal bank loans of some four million families.
Lasso was due later Friday to meet mayors and provincial governors to discuss the situation.
The country's production ministry said the protests have cost some $50 million in losses.
Producers of flowers, one of Ecuador's main exports, complained Friday that due to the roadblocks, their wares were rotting.
Ten soldiers and eight police members have been injured in clashes over the past five days, and 29 protesters arrested, according to official data.
For their part, the protesters claim 14 among them have been wounded.
A march by students and workers in the capital Thursday deteriorated into confrontation, with protesters throwing stones at police who responded with tear gas.
In 2019, Conaie-led protests resulted in 11 deaths and forced then-president Lenin Moreno to abandon plans to eliminate fuel subsidies.
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