Ecuador Protests Intensify Against IMF Austerity Measures

QUITO, Ecuador, Jan 25 – Hundreds of Indians blocked Ecuador’s main highway Thursday in a challenge to the military a day after soldiers opened
fire on a similar demonstration and wounded six people. Protesters used rocks and tree stumps to block the north-south Pan-American highway, near the primarily Indian town of Latacunga, a provincial capital 47 miles south of Quito in the Andes mountains.

QUITO, Ecuador, Jan 25 – Hundreds of Indians blocked Ecuador’s main highway Thursday in a challenge to the military a day after soldiers opened
fire on a similar demonstration and wounded six people. Protesters used rocks and tree stumps to block the north-south Pan-American highway, near the primarily Indian town of Latacunga, a provincial capital 47 miles south of Quito in the Andes mountains.

Radio stations reported Thursday that demonstrators were also blocking secondary highways that connect the country’s coastal region to the Andean highlands.

The protests are part of nationwide demonstrations called this week by student groups, unions and indigenous organizations to demand the government recall economic austerity measures announced in December.

Emotions flared on Thursday after details emerged about a skirmish the day before between soldiers and a group of some 30 indigenous protesters who were trying to block the Pan-American highway near Latacunga. According to local media reports, the soldiers fired shots at the ground and threw a grenade near the protesters after they had threatened the troops with sticks and stones for trying to break up the blockade.

One protester, Jorge Chiluiza, remains in a Quito military hospital after undergoing surgery Wednesday night for a gunshot wound to the abdomen, television station Ecuavisa reported. Five other wounded demonstrators were sent to the Latacunga hospital, the report said.

The armed forces have not commented on the confrontation.

"We are not afraid. Now the protests are going to be 10 times worse," said Antonio Lumitaxi, mayor of the nearby town of Saquisili.

Thousands of indigenous peasants were marching to central Latacunga to demand the resignation of the province’s governor, local radio reported Thursday
afternoon.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, one of the national protest organizers, deplored the shooting in a statement Thursday, accusing the
government of maintaining a "policy of repression."

The confederation said it would step up highway blockades with the goal of cutting off agricultural shipments from Andean provinces to the rest of the
country.

The measures under protest include a doubling of the price of cooking fuel, a 25 percent hike in gasoline prices and an increase in bus fares by as much as 75 percent.

President Gustavo Noboa is implementing the austerity measures to secure a three-year, $2 billion aid package from international lenders led by the
International Monetary Fund.

Author:

News Service: AP

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