QUITO, Ecuador – Protesters held anti-government rallies in cities across Ecuador on Wednesday despite a warning by the military to avoid violence after a week of unrest sparked by fuel price hikes.
There were scattered clashes between stone-throwing demonstrators and police using tear gas to break up crowds, which included members of labor unions and indigenous groups. Security was tight around the empty congress building in Quito, which had been besieged by protesters on Tuesday.
The military said it will enforce the law during Wednesday’s protests, following days of unrest that led President Lenin Moreno to move government operations from Quito to the port of Guayaquil.
In a statement, the military appealed to Ecuadorians to denounce anyone who uses the cover of the protest to carry out vandalism and other crimes.
The military’s backing is key for Moreno, who said late Tuesday that his government is negotiating with indigenous groups. The president said the dialogue is difficult because so many indigenous groups are involved. He also said he will not resign despite widespread discontent in the South American nation of 17 million.
Ecuador’s political crisis shows no signs of abating. While labor leaders called the strike Wednesday, economic activity in much of the country has already been stalled by clashes, looting, blockades and other disruptions.
Violence started last week after Moreno ended fuel subsidies, leading to price increases. The government says about 570 people have been arrested.
The disturbances have spread from transport workers to students and then to indigenous demonstrators, an ominous turn for the government. Indigenous protesters played a major role in the 2005 resignation of Ecuador’s president at the time, Lucio Gutierrez, though the military’s tacit approval was key to his removal.
Moreno’s government says indigenous protesters have traditionally not resorted to causing havoc, while other protesters who back former president Rafael Correa are intent on destabilizing the country.
Correa denies allegations that he is trying to instigate a coup and says he and his allies are victims of political persecution. Correa, who has been living in Belgium, faces an arrest warrant issued last year in Ecuador for alleged corruption.
Ecuador’s cuts in fuel subsidies were among measures announced as part of a $4.2 billion funding plan with the International Monetary Fund, which said the package will strengthen the economy and generate jobs.
Indigenous groups condemn the deal with the IMF, saying austerity measures will deepen economic inequality.
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