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Classes suspended after transportation companies call strike against higher fuel prices; Protests close roads in and out of Cuenca

The government has declared Thursday a holiday for public and private school students following the Wednesday announcement by public transportation unions of a nationwide strike. The unions, representing owners of buses and passengers vans, are protesting the increase in the price of gasoline and diesel fuel that goes into effect today.

The price for regular gasoline and diesel goes up today.

President Lenin Moreno announced the fuel price hike Tuesday night as part of an economic reform package aimed at reducing the budget deficit and national debt. The price for a gallon of regular gasoline rises from $1.85 a gallon to $2.30 while diesel increases from $1.08 to $2.27.

On Thursday morning, transit police reported that many of the country’s major highways were closed by protesting transportation workers, including taxi owners. In Cuenca, several major roads in and out of the city as well as some city streets were reported closed a 7 a.m. Local taxi unions said most of their members were participating in protests and would not operate on Thursday.

Transit police also report that most inter-provincial bus service has been suspended throughout the country.

In addition to the transportation strike, protest rallies against Moreno’s economic plan were held several cities, including Quito, Cuenca and Loja. In Cuenca, a crowd of about 150, carrying banners proclaiming “No economic changes” and “Lenin Out” gathered in front of the provincial government building on Parque Calderon to hear speakers.

Moreno rejected the transportation strike, saying the government would not tolerate extended disruption of classes for the country’s children or cancellation of inter-provincial bus service. “The call for transportation paralysis harms the entire population, not only the children who seek an education but for people who want to work and produce,” he said. “If it becomes necessary, the government will invoke legal measures to stop the strike.”

Quito’s Public Transport Chamber and the National Federation of Inter-provincial Passenger Transportation Cooperatives are leading the strike although local owners’ groups said they will also join the work stoppage.

Political experts say that the reaction to the government’s new economic measures, including the increase in fuel costs, has been relatively restrained so far.

Former labor minister Paul Ramos says he expects more reaction in the coming days but says the measures that Moreno announced were relatively restrained that he expected. “I thought he would increase the IVA to 15 percent and possible reduce the subsidy on LP gas but he didn’t do it,” he said. “There will be protests in the coming days and many road closures but I doubt that they will rise to the level of those of the past.”