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Thousands join national strike in Quito, Guayaquil and Cuenca; Gov’t increases urban bus fare 10 cents to restart public transit

University of Cuenca students march across the Rio Tomebamba toward El Centro this morning. (El Tiempo)

Wednesday’s national strike has brought out the largest protest crowds yet in the week-long reaction to the government’s labor reforms. The strike coincides with the Guayaquil independence national holiday.

An estimated 40,000 marched in several locations in Quito, half of them part of a massive indigenous and peasant march that arrived in the city on Tuesday afternoon. Although the main march into the historic district was relatively peaceful, other protests around the city resulted in clashes with police and widespread vandalism.

Labor unions joined indigenous groups Wednesday in Quito protests. (El Comercio)

In Cuenca, four marches of labor groups and college students converged in the historic district at late morning. By noon, police responded to rock-throwing protesters with tear gas. By mid-afternoon, police forced protesters away from barricades on Sucre and Simon Bolivar on the east side of Parque Calderon. Some vandalism was reported.

In both Quito and Cuenca, city buses and taxis remained idle. In Cuenca, the taxi union claimed it was too dangerous for drivers to work and members continue to insist that the government roll-back gasoline prices.

In an effort to get urban buses back on the streets, the federal government said bus companies and cooperatives could increase fares by as much as 10 cents. In making the announcement, the National Transit Agency (ANT) said it was pre-empting municipal authority to set higher fares due to the national emergency. The ANT said that bus companies could increase fares up to 40 cents.

By 4 p.m., there was no response to the offer from bus owners and it was unclear if the fare hike allowance would put buses back on city streets.

In other strike news, President Lenin Moreno returned to Quito from his temporary government headquarters in Guayaquil, saying the crisis in Quito demanded his attention.

Earlier, the government announced that the United Nations and Catholic church were hosting discussions with protesting unions and organizations in hopes of ending the conflict.