Demonstrators in Ecuador have called a general strike to protest President Rafael Correa's moves to extend his rule. But the leftist leader has called out his own supporters and warned of a possible coup attempt.
Workers, union leaders and indigenous Ecuadorians blocked roads to Quito and other cities Thursday with branches and rocks to protest President Rafael Correa's plans to hike taxes and amend the constitution to allow unlimited terms for re-election.
Businesses are upset by new taxes - including import tariffs and a 75 percent tax on capital gains from real estate sales and inheritances - that were announced, but later suspended, after a public outcry. Union activists are angry at a new labor code that they say would strip away freedom of association and protest. Indigenous groups are unhappy at the government's refusal to consult them on mining and oil exploration on traditional lands.
Indigenous leader Carlos Perez told the AP news agency that the strike would not end until President Correa heeds citizen complaints.
"If we don't get answers we're prepared to continue the protest for two days, or 15 days - whatever it takes to open the deaf ears of President Correa," Perez said.
But so far the strike has failed to be a major disruption. In commercial centers including Quito, stores, factories, banks and other public and private institutions appeared to be business as usual.
Resistance to president's rule growing
Correa, who remains relatively popular, says his fiscal reforms would help wealth distribution in the poor Andean nation and blames the protests on his political rivals.
"They're hurting the country, not the government. We cannot be submitted to the abuses of an absolute minority," he wrote on Twitter.
But there are signs that a growing anti-Correa movement is gaining traction as disparate groups join forces to oppose legislation that would allow him to run again for president when his term expires in 2017.
Support level in opinion polls is now at its lowest ever - 45 percent.
"We want... the government to respect the constitution," Mesias Tatamuez, a union leader who was protesting in Quito, told Reuters news agency.
President deploys police, own supporters
A heavy police presence has been deployed in key cities, including 5,000 officers in Quito. So far there have been no reports of serious violence. At one point, however, riot police fired tear gas in a vain attempt to clear indigenous protesters who had blocked the Pan-American Highway near the Cotopaxi volcano, a popular tourist attraction.
But tensions remain palpable, with pro-government demonstrators gathering outside the presidential offices in the capital to block what the president has warned could turn into a coup attempt.
jar/jr (dpa, AP, AFP, Reuters)