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Calm returns to Cuenca’s El Centro but more protests are expected today

Protesters of the government’s decision to end fuel subsidies left the central area of Cuenca’s historic district early Thursday evening but student leaders from the University of Cuenca said they planned to return Friday.

Police closed off Parque Calderon before noon on Thursday.

For much of Thursday, police chased groups of protesters, numbering from a few dozen to more than a hundred, through El Centro streets after Parque Calderon was closed off with barricades. The protesters set trash fires in a number of locations to dilute the effect of tear gas. Streets began to clear about 7 p.m. when army troops arrived to reinforce police and an 8 p.m. curfew was announced on social media.

In a news conference, Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacio urged calm and said that the political protests affect only a small part of the city. “The disturbances are centered within a few blocks in the center of the historic district and have no affect on most of the city,” he said. “We believe Friday will be more peaceful thanks to the emergency declaration. We hope that people can return to their normal lives but it appears that the transportation strike will continue.”

He added: “I fully support the right to protest but we will insist it is done in a peaceful, respectful manner.”

The state of emergency declared by President Lenin Moreno allows the use of military personnel to restore order and clear roads and gives the government the right to set curfews.

Unlike Guayaquil, Palacios said there was no looting or vandalism in the Cuenca protests.

Palacios met with representatives of city taxi owners Thursday morning and discussed the possibility of raising fares as a consequence of higher gasoline prices. He said he agreed fares would increase if higher fuel prices remain in effect but said it was too early to make a change.

Thursday’s protest began with a rally of about 200 university students in Parque Calderon. When some in the crowd began throwing debris and paintballs, police responded with tear gas. The crowd dispersed but after the park was closed protests continued in the surrounding streets.