Thousands march in Ecuador's capital to protest against austerity measures

Source: Xinhua| 2019-10-10 16:29:01|Editor: Shi Yinglun
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QUITO, Oct. 9 (Xinhua) -- Thousands of Ecuadorians marched through the capital Quito on Wednesday to protest against belt-tightening measures imposed by the government.

Members of indigenous groups, labor unions and student organizations marched through different parts of the city, which has been roiled by protests since the government decreed an end to fuel subsidies on Oct. 1.

Stores and businesses were mostly closed, especially in downtown Quito, where various marches took place.

The demonstrations were largely peaceful, though there were isolated incidents of violence in connection with the march, according to state news website El Telegrafo.

Masked and hooded protesters threw rocks at police, who responded with tear gas.

Video footage posted by El Telegrafo showed one young man hammering away at a sidewalk, smashing cement into pieces which could presumably be hurled at security forces if necessary.

Key public buildings, such as the general prosecutor's office, were under heavy guard, surrounded by police standing behind metal barricades.

The elimination of fuel subsidies is part of a package of austerity measures designed to reduce the public deficit in keeping with the terms of a 4.2-billion-U.S.-dollar loan agreement the government had signed with the International Monetary Fund.

Gasoline and diesel prices immediately shot up, leading transport workers and others to launch an indefinite nationwide strike, and sparking sometimes violent protests. Public transit fares have also gone up.

President Lenin Moreno declared a state of emergency on Oct. 3 to try to quell the protests with a stepped-up police and military presence, but demonstrations continued to intensify.

Spiraling violence led Moreno to move his government out of the capital to the southeastern city of Guayaquil, where protests also broke out. He returned to Quito on Wednesday.

In a televised interview Tuesday night on the Teleamazonas channel, Moreno repeated his willingness to engage in dialogue with the protesters as well as his refusal to revoke the austerity measures, saying "it's not possible."

He also refused to step down.

"Under no circumstance (will I step down), and I don't see why I should have to if I am making the right decisions," said Moreno.

About 700 people have been arrested for vandalism and other protest-related crimes since the unrest began, according to officials.

Protests have disrupted Ecuador's crude output and fuel delivery, leading to a shortage of gasoline in some areas.