Quito, Oct 13 (AFP/APP): Ecuador President Lenin Moreno on Saturday ordered the capital Quito and surrounding areas placed under curfew and military control, as an 11th day of deadly protests against government austerity measures roiled the city.
The order would “facilitate the work of public forces against intolerable outbreaks of violence,” he announced on Twitter, as clouds of smoke hung over the city.
“I have arranged for the Joint Command of the Armed Forces to immediately carry out necessary measures and operations,” Moreno said in a brief national address, flanked by Vice President Otto Sonnenholzner and Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin.
The restrictions in Quito, a city of 2.7 million, came on top of a state of emergency Moreno had declared on October 3, deploying some 75,000 military and police and imposing a nighttime curfew in the vicinity of government buildings.
Violence continued in Quito on Saturday even as the indigenous movement leading the protests over fuel price hikes reversed course and said it had accepted a proposal for direct talks with Moreno.
In his address, Moreno thanked indigenous groups for agreeing to negotiations, but did not say when or where the talks would take place.
The president stressed that he would restore “order throughout Ecuador” as thousands of protesters thronged the streets of Quito.
Demonstrators on Saturday ransacked and set fire to the building housing the comptroller general’s office. The building was shrouded in thick smoke after being attacked with fire bombs.
According to the prosecutor’s office, 34 people were arrested.
– Media attacked –
Nearby, protesters erected barricades in front of the National Assembly building as police fired tear gas at them, according to AFP journalists at the scene.
A television station and a newspaper also came under attack, the outlets said.
The Teleamazonas TV channel interrupted its regular broadcast to air images of broken windows, a burned vehicle and heavy police presence on the scene.
“For about half an hour we were under attack. They threw stones at us, forced open the doors and threw Molotov cocktails,” presenter Milton Perez said.
The station evacuated 25 employees, none of whom were hurt.
El Comercio newspaper reported on Twitter that its offices were attacked by a “group of unknowns.” It did not provide further details.
Protest leaders denied being involved in the attacks on the TV station or the comptroller general’s office.
“We have nothing to do with the events at the comptroller’s office and Teleamazonas,” said CONAIE, the indigenous umbrella group which has been leading the protests.
Protesters did not immediately heed the curfew which went into effect at 3:00 pm (2000 GMT), with security forces still struggling to impose order in some parts of the city as night fell.
People who emptied the streets little by little left demanding the end of repression.
“Where are the mothers and fathers of the police? Why do they let them kill us?” cried Nancy Quinyupani, an indigenous woman.
– Six dead –
The demonstrations have left six people dead and nearly 2,100 wounded or detained, according to the ombudsman’s office.
Earlier Saturday CONAIE said it had agreed to hold talks with Moreno after consulting with its members. On Friday the group had rejected the president’s proposal to negotiate.
Ecuador’s indigenous groups make up a quarter of the country’s 17.3 million people.
Indigenous groups from disadvantaged communities in the Amazon and the Andes have spearheaded demands that Moreno reinstate fuel subsidies that were cut last week — part of a deal his government struck to obtain a $4.2 billion loan from the IMF.
Fuel prices have more than doubled from October 3.
The violence has forced Moreno to relocate his government to Ecuador’s second city, Guayaquil, and has hit the oil industry hard with the Energy Ministry suspending more than two-thirds of its distribution of crude.
Protesters seized three oil facilities in the Amazon earlier this week.
Moreno is struggling with an economic crisis that he blames on waste and corruption by the administration of his predecessor Rafael Correa.
Moreno has accused Correa and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an “attempted coup d’etat” using indigenous groups.
Maduro, a leftist firebrand whom Washington is seeking to oust, has denounced allegations of involvement as absurd, but praised the “popular insurrection” against the IMF.