National strike leads to clashes between anti-government protesters and police; Quito is the focus but there were confrontations in Cuenca too
A national strike sponsored by Ecuador indigenous groups led to clashes between anti-government protesters and police in several areas of Ecuador on Thursday, and several dozen injuries were reported. Roads were closed in many locations although army personnel and national police moved in to clear roadblocks, in most cases as soon as they were erected.
Tear gas and pepper spray were used frequently, including in Cuenca, to disperse crowds trying to breach police cordons.
Although the protest was focused on Quito, there were demonstrations in other cities, including Cuenca, Riobamba, Ibarra and Machala. In many locations, indigenous protesters were joined by other groups opposed to the government, including labor and teacher unions, doctors, retirees and transportation workers.
The protesters have a long list of issues with the government, including a constitutional amendment that would allow President Rafael Correa to seek another term, new rules that nationalize management of rural water resources, a pending free trade agreement with the European Union, and the end to the government’s contribution to the national Social Security system.
The most serious incidents occurred in El Chasqui, Cotopaxi Province, as clashes erupted when police attempted to reopen a highway. Traffic was intermittent, as protester rushed in with tires, rocks and branches to re-block highways when police left. Several times, police used tear gas and pepper spray to drive back the crowd.
In Quito, protesters broke through police lines in the historic district on several occasions but were driven back by police before they could reach pro-government demonstrations organized by the government.
Plaza Grande, where the presidential palace is located, was one areas that police protected as Correa addressed a crowd of about two thousand supporters. Correa said that democracy would be defended at all costs and that he would not allow 3% of the population to dictate policy to the majority of Ecuadorians. “They will resort to throwing sticks and stones, and to the use of violence, but these are the tactics of the past and they will not succeed.”
In Cuenca, protesters set a small fire in Calle Simon Bolivar, next to Parque San Blas, before marching toward Parque Calderon. There was pushing and shoving when they tried to get past a police line. Police used tear gas on several occasions to disperse the crowd.
Some protesters made it into the park and there were shouting matches between the pro- and anti-government demonstrators.
The Pan American Highway was closed in several locations between Cuenca and Loja but National Police and soldiers moved in to clear it. There were longer road closures on the Cuenca to Machala highway, in the Yunguilla area.
Several police were injured near Giron, south of Cuenca, one seriously.
According to the national police, 47 police were injured during yesterday’s confrontations while 67 protesters were arrested.
The protests will continue, leaders say, setting the stage for more confrontations.