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Ecuador talks stall after soldier killed by ‘violent protesters’

#Ecuador #talks #stall #soldier #killed #violent #protesters

Negotiations to end more than two weeks of protests over the cost of living of indigenous Ecuadorians were hit hard on Tuesday when the killing of a soldier prompted the government to suspend participation.

President Guillermo Lasso accused indigenous leader Leonidas Iza of self-interested politics in a brief address to the nation, saying, “We will not negotiate with those holding Ecuador hostage.”

Iza’s powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), in turn, accused the government of “authoritarianism” and said Lasso will face the consequences for “his hawkish policies.”

The military said a soldier died and five police officers and seven soldiers were injured in an early morning attack on a tanker truck escort in the east of the country.

A group armed with “javelins and rifles” was said to have attacked uniformed personnel protecting a convoy of tankers heading for the so-called ITT block of oil fields in Orellana province, where more than a billion barrels are stored.

Interior Minister Patricio Carillo tweeted his condolences to the family of fallen soldier Jose Chimarro, describing the attackers as “violent protesters.”

A second day of talks with indigenous representatives, scheduled for Tuesday morning, could not start because government negotiators did not show up.

Mediator Virgilio Saquicela, President of the National Assembly, announced that the government was “not present” as it was “conducting an analysis” of the early morning events.

– ‘Brutal Attack’ –

Iza referred to a “brutal attack” but said there was no evidence protesters were responsible.

“The country has witnessed all our efforts to have a fruitful and honest dialogue,” said Lasso, a former banker who took office just over a year ago.

“But we will not sit down again for a dialogue with Leonidas Iza, who only defends his political interests and not those of his base.”

Tuesday’s death added to five dead protesters and hundreds of civilians and security personnel injured in clashes between security forces and protesters that blocked key roads and cut utility lines.

According to observers, about 150 people were arrested.

Crude oil is the South American country’s top export, but production has been halved from about 520,000 barrels a day before the protests, the government said.

Operations on more than 1,100 wells were affected.

An estimated 14,000 protesters are taking part in a nationwide demonstration of discontent against mounting hardship in an economy hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Conaie, who called the protest, is credited with unseating three presidents between 1997 and 2005.

Indigenous people make up more than a million of the South American nation’s 17.7 million residents.

The protesters’ greatest anger is concentrated in the capital, Quito, where around 10,000 people have gathered, most of them from other parts of the country.

Aside from fuel price cuts, protesters want jobs, food price controls and more public spending on health and education.

– “Serious political crisis” –

The action was costly, with losses of about $50 million a day to the economy, according to the government, which has warned oil production could soon grind to a complete halt.

Ecuador’s economy is heavily dependent on oil revenues, with 65 percent of production exported in the first four months of 2022.

Protesters have set up roadblocks in most of the country’s 24 provinces, hampering the delivery of food and flowers – another key export item – and dealing a blow to tourism.

On Sunday, Lasso announced a 10 cents per gallon cut in diesel and gasoline prices, but Conaie felt that this was insufficient.

The president also lifted a state of emergency in six provinces and a night curfew in Quito.

After the concessions, both sides met for the first time on Monday to talk about ending the protest.

Lasso is facing impeachment, which has been called for by opposition politicians for his role in the “severe political crisis and internal unrest” caused by the standoff.

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