Seven Days of Unrest and Counting: Thousands Stream Into Ecuador’s Capital
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QUITO, Ecuador — Thousands of protesters streamed into downtown Quito on Wednesday, the seventh day of violent unrest that has brought the country to a virtual standstill, has led to the arrest of hundreds and has threatened the government’s stability.
President Lenín Moreno of Ecuador arrived in Quito, the capital, on Wednesday afternoon to meet with leaders of the protest movement, which was ignited by the government’s decision last week to eliminate a popular fuel subsidy program. Protesters also staged anti-government rallies in cities nationwide, often barricading roads.
The demonstrations have been so fierce that Mr. Moreno this week moved the seat of government from Quito to the coastal city of Guayaquil, more than 150 miles away, the first time in over 100 years that it had been moved from the capital.
More than 700 people have been arrested nationwide over the past week of protests. On Wednesday, the police in Quito used tear gas to break up the crowds, which included members of labor unions and indigenous groups, and some protesters threw Molotov cocktails.
The Red Cross announced it would suspend operations and assistance because it was unable to guarantee the security of its staffers.
The government has pushed back as well. In Guayaquil, the authorities themselves blocked a major bridge to frustrate demonstrators, and a curfew imposed this week barred people from areas around government buildings and other strategic locations after 5 p.m.
The demonstrations were set off by Mr. Moreno’s decision to eliminate fuel subsidies as part of an austerity plan required under an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to help Ecuador stabilize its finances.
The fuel subsidy cut, which will lead to higher gas and consumer prices, enraged many Ecuadorians who have endured years of economic malaise.
Transportation unions were among the first to call for a national strike, and students, workers and indigenous organizations soon joined. The union workers called off their strike when they reached a fare-hike agreement with the government. Yet other workers, indigenous groups and students — along with some political rivals of Mr. Moreno — have continued to protest in large numbers.
The indigenous movement has become a strong political force in Ecuador since the early 1990s, when protesters first marched to Quito, demanding legal recognition of their property over lands they regards as their ancestral property.
In a televised interview on Tuesday, Mr. Moreno said he would not consider leaving office.