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Government, indigenous leaders reach agreement to end protests in Ecuador

ECUADOR PROTESTS (UPDATES TEXT, ADDS PHOTOS, VIDEO | 13 de octubre de 2019

Government, indigenous leaders reach agreement to end protests in Ecuador 

Protesters celebrate the agreement reached between the government and indigenous leaders putting an end to the protests in Quito, Ecuador, Oct. 13, 2019. EPA-EFE/BIENVENIDO VELASCO

Quito, Oct 13 (efe-epa).- The government of Ecuador and leaders representing the Andean nation's indigenous peoples reached an agreement on Sunday to repeal the controversial decree that eliminated fuel subsidies, thus bringing an end to 11 days of violence sparked by the law.

Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno and indigenous representatives began their meeting with a minute's silence for those killed in the protests – seven, according to the Ombudsman's Office – before discussing ways to achieve reconciliation.

"As a result of the dialogue, a new decree will render Decree 883 ineffective, for which a commission will be set up to formulate this new decree," announced the United Nations coordinator in Ecuador, Arnaud Peral, after the talks.

The commission will be made up of representatives of the indigenous peoples and the government with the mediation of the UN and the Ecuadorian bishop's conference.

Peral, reading from the text of the agreement, said that all movements and measures taken in Ecuador concerning the decree and the unrest would be suspended, and the parties were committed to reestablishing peace.

While the situation had worsened over the past several days with people losing their lives, jobs and environment, and undergoing much suffering, the agreement was a "fantastic and extraordinary step forward," bringing peace and hope for the future, according to the UN coordinator.

The president, on his part, said that the agreement was the result of sacrifice from each of the parties involved and required everyone to cede some ground.

The president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), Jaime Vargas, underlined the need for respecting the Constitution in the field of prior consultation before taking actions on their territories.

He enumerated that during the process of "fight and resistance," more than 2,000 indigenous people were injured, over 1,000 were imprisoned, around 10 killed, and more than 100 missing across the country, besides allegedly being subject to torture by the security forces.

WITHDRAWAL OF SUBSIDY ELIMINATION

Initially, Moreno had claimed that the elimination of the fuel subsidy would benefit the population, especially the poorest, and strengthen the dollarization in force since 2000.

In addition, he advocated finding a formula to ensure that the money generated from the elimination of the subsidy was directed towards the poor.

However, Vargas had insisted that the decree eliminating subsidies that triggered the protests be repealed.

The indigenous leader had expressed hope for a "definitive and lasting" solution and said that if that did not happen, they would remain firm and united in their commitment to defend the people, and make all possible sacrifices.

CORREA BLAMED FOR STOKING PROTESTS

The talks came in the backdrop of protests that erupted again on Sunday in Quito and different neighborhoods in the south of the capital, despite a curfew in the city since Saturday.

Throughout the morning, thousands of citizens took to the streets without being arrested by security forces, leading the Armed Forces Joint Command to suspend the curfew between 11:30 am and 8 pm local time.

After midday, thousands of protesters gathered again at Arbolito Park to face off against law enforcement.

The president lauded the indigenous people for getting rid off those who wanted to take advantage of their legitimate protest to create chaos and bring the country to a volatile situation.

"You are not responsible for what has happened these days," he told the indigenous activists and attributed the violence to people connected to former President Rafael Correa (in office between 2007-17).

Foreign Minister Jose Valencia claimed that the violence was a part of "a preconceived plan to cause chaos, disorder, force an alteration of the democratic order" in the country.

"Violent demonstrations across the country, but particularly in Quito, are unprecedented. Ecuador had never experienced anything similar," Valencia told EFE.

"It's not just an indigenous protest. It is true that there are economic demands by indigenous associations, but the indigenous people themselves have distanced themselves from these violent acts, attacks on buildings such as the comptroller's office, on media workers and passersby," he said.

TALKS AND RECONCILIATION

Peral praised the will for dialogue, peace and reconciliation because "Ecuador has suffered a great deal these past days."

"The time has come for reconciliation, the time to reconstruct a path of peace and leave behind violence and hatred," he said, urging the parties to look for the issues that unite instead of divide.

On behalf of the Ecuadorian people, Guayaquil Archbishop Luis Cabrera – vice-president of the Episcopal Conference of Ecuador – praised the social sensibility the decision to face current challenges: "Let us be brave, let us bet on peace!" he said.

TRANSPARENCY, RESIGNATIONS AND EMERGENCY

During the talks broadcast live on television, Vargas called on the head of state for transparency regarding the loan deal reached with the International Monetary Fund, under which the subsidies were eliminated.

He complained about the lack of dialogue with ministers over the past year and in particular, called for the removal of Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo and Defense Minster Oswaldo Jarrin due to the use of excessive force against protesters.

At the negotiating table, indigenous leader Abelardo Granda called on Moreno to repeal the state of emergency in the metropolitan area in force since Oct. 3, when the demonstrations first erupted. EFE-EPA

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Quito devastated by strike over economic adjustments

Quito, Oct 13 (efe-epa).- The Ecuadorian capital on Sunday morning looked as if an earthquake had struck, with streets blocked and blackened by bonfires and other marks of the massive protest against the government's economic adjustments as per its agreement with the International Monetary Fund.

Meanwhile, the Ecuadorian Ombudsman's Office raised the death toll in the protests to seven, adding on its Web page that a total of 1,152 people had been arrested and 1,340 injured since the beginning of the protests on Oct. 3.

Of those totals, 499 arrests were made in Pichincha province, where Quito is located, while 913 of the injured people were hurt there.

The entity said that it is "continuing to monitor the human rights situation" amid the nationwide demonstrations.

There was no public transportation on Quito's streets, no taxis, no Uber service, according to citizens who went out for a walk, and drivers said they had to work their way around the obstacles with difficulty or find alternative routes to get to their destinations.

After a night during which there was a huge "cacerolazo" (protest in which people bang on pots and pans) and clashes with police in some parts of Quito challenging the curfew imposed by the government, there seems to be a possibility that the indigenous strike that's been under way for the past 11 days may end with a dialogue acceptable to all parties.

According to the city news service, there were at least 40 spots where streets were blocked by protesters in the early morning hours, in the city's historic district, the epicenter of the protests since Oct. 3.

Streets were also partially blocked in the northern and southern parts of the capital, as well as in some nearby valleys in eastern Quito, municipal sources said.

There are reports that highways such as the Aloag-Santo Domingo road linking the capital with the coastal zone, as well as the Guayllabamba-Cayambe and Calacali-La Independencia highways and several more leading to the Amazon region, have also been blocked.

The Attorney General's Office reported Sunday morning that authorities had raided the home of Alexandra A., a former mayor of the city of Duran, as part of its investigation into the violent protests in recent days, seizing computers and cellphones "seeking alleged messages related to the National Strike."

On Saturday, the protests reached their most violent level on a day that started with heavy clashes in downtown Quito and ended with the widespread late-night "cacerolazo," when thousands of Ecuadorians demanded that the violent protests and vandalism cease by banging on pots and pans.

"Peace! Peace!" shouted the people banging on their pots on their balconies and patios, after being called to the protest on the social networks.

No incidents were reported amid the "cacerolazo," which - though noisy - was apparently peaceful.

The Conaie indigenous nationalities confederation, which is heading the protest against the government's economic measures, agreed at midday Saturday to engage in dialogue with the Lenin Moreno administration, although the disturbances continued through the day and into the night.

Moreno had imposed a curfew starting at 3 pm in an attempt to bring order back to the city.

Among the issues being protested by Conaie since Oct. 3 is the elimination of fuel subsidies, one of the conditions demanded by the IMF and other institutions in exchange for granting Ecuador a $10 billion credit line. EFE-EPA

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