QUITO – Thousands of indigenous people converged on Ecuador’s capital on Tuesday as anti-government protests and clashes prompted the president to move his besieged administration out of Quito.
The South American country of 17 million appeared to be at a dangerous impasse, paralyzed by a lack of public transport and blockaded roads that were taking a toll on an already vulnerable economy.
Violence, which began last week when President Lenin Moreno’s decision to cut subsidies led to a sharp increase in fuel prices, has persisted for days. Several oil wells ceased production totaling 65,000 barrels daily because protesters seized installations, the energy ministry said.
On Monday, police abandoned an armored vehicle to protesters who set it on fire. Elsewhere, rioters smashed car windows, broke into shops and confronted security forces who fired tear gas to try to disperse swelling crowds.
Some video footage has shown police beating protesters on the ground. Opponents have accused Moreno’s government of human rights abuses in its attempts to quell the disturbances.
Moreno said on national television late Monday that the government faces security threats and will operate from the port city of Guayaquil instead of Quito, the capital.
He said he was the target of a coup attempt, but would not back down from his decision to cut the subsidies.
Several military commanders in uniform stood behind Moreno during his address, underscoring the armed forces’ support.
Moreno said his leftist predecessor, Rafael Correa, is trying to destabilize Ecuador with the help of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Ecuador is among dozens of nations calling for Maduro’s ouster.
The Venezuelan government has not commented on Moreno’s allegation.
Correa and Moreno have traded allegations of corruption in recent months, and Correa says he and his allies are victims of political persecution.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido echoed Moreno’s accusation, saying Maduro associates are trying to destabilize Ecuador.
Some 480 people have been arrested during the unrest. The government last week declared a state of emergency, allowing it to curb some civil liberties as it tries to restore order.
The disturbances have spread from transport workers to students 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.
The country’s biggest indigenous group, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador — which also had mounted protests against Correa — said Moreno’s government had failed to address protesters’ concerns and the welfare of Ecuador’s “most vulnerable” people.
“Troops and police who approach indigenous territories will be detained and subjected to indigenous justice,” the group said in a statement.
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