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Protests subside in Centro; Transit strike leaders arrested as military clears blocked roadways

Although protests in Cuenca’s historic district resumed late Friday morning as expected, the number of participants was down sharply from Thursday. A national police estimate put the number of active protesters at 500 as of late Friday afternoon, a drop from more than 2,000 at the same time Thursday.

Protesters face off Friday afternoon against a police cordon and an armored military truck on Calle Simon Bolivar.

Friday’s confrontations began at the intersection of Simon Bolivar and Presidente Borrero, at the police barricade between the provincial fiscalia and the Cuenca mayor’s office. By noon, police had pushed the protesters east on Bolivar to the intersection of Hermano Miguel.

By 4:30 p.m., some protesters regrouped at the intersection of Mariscal Sucre and Borrero while others gathered a block to the east, at Sucre and Hermano Miguel.

On several occasions throughout the day, when demonstrators threw rocks and other objects at police, an armored military vehicle with tear gas cannons and an L-RAD sound system charged, dispersing the crowd with gas and a painful high-pitched broadcast.

Meanwhile, following President Lenin Moreno’s national emergency declaration, military troops began to clear roads and highways around Cuenca as well as in the rest of the country. “We have opened several highways and will open more as the day goes on,” said Azuay Governor Xavier Martínez. “We are sending a clear signal to those who interfere with the right of Ecuadorians to peacefully reach their destinations. We have met resistance at several locations and those who interfere with our efforts will be arrested.”

At 4 p.m., police reported that they had made seven arrests of bus and taxi owners who failed to comply with military orders to remove vehicles. Martínez said clearing blocked roads in Cuenca and in Azuay Province could take two to three days.

Early Friday morning, the national police had arrested two leaders of the transportation strike. Manolo Solíz, president of the Cuenca Chamber of Transportation, and Messías Vicuña, general secretary of the Choferes del Azuay Union, were taken into custody at about 4 a.m. The pair was charged with interfering with public services.

More than 100 taxi and bus owners and drivers gathered outside the Azuay court building by mid-morning demanding that Solíz and Vicuña be released.