Ecuador Indigenous Group Rejects Talks, Issues Call to 'Radicalize' Protests


A key Ecuadoran indigenous leader Thursday rejected talks with President Lenin Moreno and issued a call to "radicalize" protests over fuel price hikes in violence that has left five protesters dead.

The call by Jaime Vargas, head of the indigenous umbrella organization CONAIE, flew in the face of efforts by President Lenin Moreno to resume dialogue after a week of protests which have disrupted the country's oil output.

"No dialogue with a murderous government," Vargas said in a statement after indigenous groups seized eight police officers during a tense stand-off in Quito.

The officers, including a woman, were put on display before an angry crowd at Quito's House of Culture which indigenous groups have occupied since arriving in the city last weekend.

Some indigenous men prodded and berated one of the officers, Captain Cristian Rueda, who appeared before the crowd wrapped in an Ecuadoran flag.

"Without a doubt, this is going to be solved very soon," Moreno said in a video broadcast on state television late Wednesday, following clashes between protesters and security forces in the heart of the capital.

Those clashes killed four civilians, including an indigenous leader, the ombudsman's office announced Thursday, bringing the overall toll to five.

"We are calling on the national government to eradicate violence and guarantee the exercise of the right to social protest in a peaceful manner," it said.

The first victim was hit by a vehicle on Sunday in the southern province of Azuay.

The protesters are demanding that Moreno reinstate fuel subsidies that were rescinded last week after $4.2 billion in loans was agreed with the IMF. 

Ending the subsidies meant that fuel prices shot up by as much as 120 percent from October 3.

- Discussions stalled -

Moreno moved the seat of government to the southwest port city of Guayaquil on Monday as thousands of indigenous people descended on the capital from outlying Amazonian and Andean settlements.

Officials have already had some discussions with CONAIE leaders in Guayaquil, after mediation by the United Nations and the Catholic Church.

"There is dialogue with the brother indigenous peoples who unfortunately have needs," Moreno said of the groups which make up a quarter of the population of the country's 17.3 million people.

He also offered to free up resources for those hit hard by the rise in fuel prices.

But despite the president's optimism, indigenous leader Salvador Quishpe said on Wednesday the "demonstration is ongoing, it has not ended."

Vargas said CONAIE representatives were reluctant to talk to a "government that has succumbed to pressure from the International Monetary Fund."

Apart from the five dead, 122 people have been injured in the clashes, with 766 detained, according to the latest figures from the authorities and the Red Cross.

The unrest has threatened to inflict wider damage on an already weakened economy, with $12.8 million in lost oil production to date, according to the energy ministry.

On Wednesday, it said it was shutting down one of the country's two domestic oil pipelines, effectively suspending two-thirds of its distribution of crude.

Protesters seized three oil facilities in the Amazon earlier this week.

- Unexpected support -

Moreno, who still claims to be a socialist, has received unexpected support from the right and the army over the unrest.

In Guayaquil, a stronghold of the business community, thousands demonstrated Wednesday in support of the president.

"The measures are harsh, but they should have been done by the government of Rafael Correa. Now we must let the president continue," said Geovanni Molina, a 68-year-old retiree.

Moreno has accused his predecessor and ex-ally Correa along with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an "attempted coup d'etat" using the indigenous population

"The evidence points precisely to him (Correa) as a key player," Moreno insisted in an interview with CNN Wednesday.

Maduro, a leftist firebrand whom Washington is seeking to oust, has denounced allegations of involvement as absurd.

Moreno has drawn support, however, from seven Latin American countries -- including Argentina, Brazil and Colombia -- that, in a joint statement, rejected any effort by Maduro and his allies to "destabilize" Ecuador.