Ecuador's president has accused Indigenous protesters of trying to overthrow his government. The protests, often turning violent, have entered their 13th day in the South American country straddling the equator.
"The real intention of these violent people is to stage a coup," President Guillermo Lasso said in a televised address. "We call on the international community to warn of this attempt to destabilize democracy in Ecuador."
He was referring to the protests called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE) demanding a cut in already subsidized but rising fuel prices. Protesters have also called for more jobs, food price controls and more public spending on health care and education.
Rallies turn violent
Lasso again offered dialogue to end the demonstrations, but shortly after his speech thousands of protesters clashed with police near the congress building in the capital, Quito. Police fired tear gas following a volley of rocks, fireworks and Molotov cocktails thrown by protesters.
While about 14,000 people have joined the protests in Ecuador, the bulk of the action is in Quito, where some 10,000 people, mostly from other parts of the country, took to the streets.
Clashes between protesters and security forces have left six people dead and dozens injured, resulting in six of the country's 24 provinces being placed under a state of emergency while a nighttime curfew was imposed in the capital. The Health Ministry said two people died in ambulances delayed by road blockades.
Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said criminals armed with firearms have infiltrated the marches. In Quito, protesters blocking roads caused food and fuel shortages in the city. Groups of protesters also attacked vehicles and civilians and forced the closure of businesses, some of which were looted.
Human Rights International said four of its staff members were physically attacked and robbed on Thursday in Quito.
Attempt to remove the president
Lawmakers from the Union por la Esperanza (UNES) caucus, linked to former leftist President Rafael Correa, began a legislative process seeking Lasso's removal on Friday.
"The country can't take it anymore," said UNES lawmaker Fausto Jarrin. "Dialogue is being broken by all sides, with violence."
This move was rejected by other parties, including Lasso's, who said they support dialogue between the government and Indigenous groups. It would take the votes of at least 92 lawmakers of the assembly's 137 lawmakers to remove Lasso, while Union has only 47 seats.
CONAIE leader Leonidas Iza said he supports attempts to remove Lasso.
'Progressive use of force'
Lasso has announced subsidized fertilizers, bank debt forgiveness and budget increases for health and education, but at the same time warned he will use all legal tools to contain the violence unleashed by the demonstrations.
"The real intention of Mr. Iza is the overthrow of the government," Lasso said. "The national police and the armed forces will act with necessary measures to defend under the law, using progressive use of force."
ss/sms (AP, AFP, Reuters)