National Police evicted thousands of anti-government protesters Friday night from Quito’s El Arbolito Park and the adjacent Casa del Cultura, key staging areas for demostrations and marches that have sometimes turned violent. “The operation at El Arbolito was aimed at individuals who have acted violently toward police in recent days,” said National Police Commander General Fausto Salinas. “These violent actors have been throwing projectiles and fireworks at our forces, causing many injuries, and it was imperative to remove them from the area. We have responded with tear gas.”
Salinas claimed most of those inside the Casa del Cultura had left following President Guillermo Lasso’s speech announcing progressive use of force against violent protesters. Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) strike leaders say, however, that police threw tear gas into the main meeting hall without warning. “There were hundreds of women and children in the auditorium when they fired the gas,” said a Conaie spokeswoman. “People were gasping for air and several lost consciousness or were injured.”
Salinas says tear gas entering the hall came from the lobby, where protesters throwing object at police were taking refuge.
The police action followed Lasso’s speech in which he claimed that Conaie President Leonidas Iza is not interested in negotiating a peaceful settlement but is intent on overthrowing the government. “We have made it clear we are ready to talk and to find solutions but Mr. Iza is not interested in negotiating,” he said.
Lasso said the government will use “all force necessary and legal” to protect the country. “The National Police and the Armed Forces will act with the necessary means to defend, public order and the rights of all citizens. This will done with the use of progressive force if necessary. We will restore the peace.”
In earlier comments, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo, said that police and military personnel have been authorized to use “non-lethal” pellets in their firearms to repell those attacking government personnel and property. “Force will be used judicioulsly but it will be used to protect our people and institutions.”
According to Carrillo and Government Minister Francisco Jiménez, Lasso’s change of approach was prompted by Thursday comments by Iza that “dialog is useless” and that the government must accept all 10 Conaie demands before protesters leave.
Carrillo said that a Thursday night attack on a truck convoy north of Quito was also a factor in the change of the government’s attitude. “Seventeen soldiers were ambushed in that attack and several of them remain in hospitals,” he said. “The trucks were carrying food and medicine to Quito and sustained hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage. We have no choice but to protect ourselves against terrorists.”
Cuenca businesses want emegency declaration
The Cuenca Chamber of Industries and Production is demanding that Cuenca Mayor Pedro Palacios and Azuay Governor Matías Abad declare a state of emergecy for the city and province. “The productive sector and those employed by it require a forceful and immediate response to the attack on public order,” said Chamber President Andrés Cordero.
Cordero’s comments followed Friday afternoon press conferences by Palacios and Abad in which they said they were working with the government to open highways and restore public and commercial transportation. “We need more than plans. We need action now that allows our employees who are trapped in their homes to return to work and to allow our good to got to market.”
Only with the declaration of a public emergency can the police army be used to clear the roads and highways, Cordero said. “We need the option of force to restore order to our transporation sector.”