Ecuador protesters win concession in standoff with government
Indigenous protesters won a concession from the Ecuadoran government Thursday on the 11th day of crippling demonstrations over fuel prices and living costs that have claimed three lives.
Isolating because of a Covid-19 infection, President Guillermo Lasso ceded to one of the protesters' conditions for negotiations: access to a cultural center emblematic of the Indigenous struggle but commandeered by police over the weekend.
"It is a triumph of the struggle," protest leader Leonidas Iza proclaimed over a megaphone, advancing on the center with hundreds of others in jubilatory mood.
Francisco Jimenez, Ecuador's minister of government, said the concession was made "for the sake of dialogue and peace."
The aim, he said, was to "to stop roadblocks, violent demonstrations, and attacks.
An estimated 14,000 protesters are taking part in the mass show of discontent nationwide that started on June 13 and has seen the government impose a state of emergency on six of the country's 24 provinces.
The bulk, some 10,000 of them, are in Quito, which is under a night-time curfew.
"I cry to see so many people mistreated by this... government," protester Cecilia, an 80-year-old who did not give her full name, told AFP as she marched with an Ecuadoran flag and a banner reading: "Lasso, liar."
- 'Lasso, liar' -
The Alliance of Human Rights Organizations said a 38-year-old man died on Wednesday in the southern town of Tarqui in clashes between protesters and police, which it accused of violent tactics.
Dozens of people have also been injured in the countrywide demonstrations that Indigenous groups have vowed to continue until their demands are met.
The police, for its part, said the man had died of a medical condition that occurred "in the context of the demonstrations."
Two other people died on Monday and Tuesday, according to the Alliance, which also reported 92 wounded and 94 civilians arrested in 11 days of protests.
Officials say 117 in the ranks of police and soldiers have been injured.
On Wednesday night, some 300 protesters occupied a power plant in southern Ecuador and briefly took its operators hostage, authorities said.
Ecuador, a small South American country riddled with drug trafficking and related violence, has been hard hit by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty -- all exacerbated by the pandemic.
The protesters' demands include a cut in already subsidized fuel prices which have risen sharply in recent months, as well as jobs, food price controls, and more public spending on healthcare and education.
- $50 million per day -
The protests, which have involved the burning of tires and tree branches by vocal marchers brandishing sticks, spears and makeshift shields, have paralyzed the capital and severely harmed the economy with barricades of key roads.
The government has rejected demands to lift the state of emergency imposed in response to the sometimes violent demonstrations called by the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie).
Conaie led two weeks of protests in 2019 in which 11 people died and more than 1,000 were injured, causing economic losses of some $800 million before the then-president abandoning plans to reduce fuel price subsidies.
Lasso's government has ruled out cutting fuel prices this time, as it would cost the State an unaffordable $1 billion per year.
Conaie -- credited with ending three presidencies between 1997 and 2005 -- insists the state of emergency be lifted before it will negotiate, but the government has said this "would leave the capital defenseless."
Official data showed the economy was losing about $50 million per day due to the protests, not counting oil production -- the country's main export product -- which has also been affected.
Producers of flowers, another of Ecuador's main exports, have complained their wares are rotting as trucks cannot reach their destinations.
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