Indigenous people and other disgruntled groups gathered anew for an eighth day of anti-government protests in Ecuador

Quito (AFP) - Thousands of Indigenous people and members of other disgruntled groups marched into Ecuador’s capital on the eighth day of fuel price protests Monday, accused by the president of seeking only “chaos” and his removal.

President Guillermo Lasso extended a state of emergency to cover six provinces, with a nighttime curfew in Quito, as he seeks to curtail demonstrations that have seen roads barricaded countrywide, cost the economy tens of millions of dollars and left dozens of people injured.

“With this decision, the welfare of citizens is safeguarded in the face of violence. At the same time, the rights of those who demonstrate peacefully are protected,” the government said.

On foot, on motorcycles and in crowded trucks, the Indigenous protesters began a peaceful march towards the city center from Cutuglagua, an area in southern Quito where they have been steadily growing in number since Sunday.

A hundred Indigenous people also entered the city from the north.

The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) – credited with helping topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005 – called the protest as Ecuadorans increasingly struggle to make ends meet.

Roads across Ecuador have been blockaded by the protesters

Indigenous people comprise more than a million of Ecuador’s 17.7 million inhabitants, and their protest has since been joined by students, workers and others feeling the economic pinch.

“We have reached out, we have called for dialogue, but they do not want peace,” Lasso, a former banker in power since May 2021, said in a video on Twitter Monday.

“They seek chaos. They want to eject the president.”

At least some in Monday’s crowd – a number of whom waved Ecuadorian flags, wielded sticks or carried their children in their arms – said the president’s ouster was precisely what they sought.

“We are the people and we will stay here until the end,” Víctor Taday, a 50-year-old Indigenous resident of Quito originally from Chimborazo province, told AFP.

It was time for Lasso, he said, to “go away”.

Police say 63 personnel have been wounded in clashes and 21 others briefly held hostage since the protests began, while human rights observers reported 79 arrests and 55 civilians wounded.

- ‘Zone of peace’ -

A state of emergency declared last Friday has allowed Lasso to mobilize the armed forces to maintain order, suspend certain civil rights and declare curfews.

On Sunday, Ecuadoran police requisitioned an Indigenous cultural center in Quito to use as a base for protest monitoring.

The Ecuadoran government says the economy has lost tens of millions of dollars due to the blockades

The center had sheltered thousands of Indigenous people during 2019 anti-government demonstrations that left 11 dead and more than 1,000 injured but forced then-president Lenin Moreno to abandon plans to eliminate fuel subsidies.

The Salesian University, in the north of the capital, decided on Monday to “open the doors” of its facilities as a “zone of peace and humanitarian shelter” for the indigenous people and called “to stop actions and attitudes that interfere or alter the processes of dialogue and the search for solutions.”

Oil producer Ecuador has been hit by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Fuel prices have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from $1 to $1.90 per gallon and rising from $1.75 to $2.55 for gasoline.

Conaie demands a price cut to $1.50 a gallon for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline.

It also wants food price controls and a commitment to renegotiating the personal bank loans of about four million families.

Ecuador’s parliament Monday evening voted 81 to 56 in favour of a resolution demanding the government conduct a “serious, clear and honest” dialogue and calling for a round table seeking solutions that would include the UN, Red Cross, local universities and the Catholic Church.