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Ecuador's president, protest leaders in talks to end deadly violence

File photo. Photograph:( AFP )

AFP Quito, Ecuador Oct 13, 2019, 10.29 PM (IST)

Indigenous leaders and Ecuador's president prepared Sunday for face-to-face talks after nearly two weeks of violent street protests over austerity measures instituted to obtain a multibillion-dollar loan from the IMF.

As both sides geared up for negotiations in the afternoon, one indigenous leader said protesters who have converged from far away will stay in the capital Quito until some kind of agreement is reached on painful reforms such as a doubling of some fuel prices.

"Not just the leaders but the rank and file -- and we will stay until there is a solution," said Salvador Quishpe of an indigenous umbrella grouping called CONAIE.

The 12 days of rolling demonstrations have left six people dead and nearly 2,100 wounded or detained, according to authorities. Protesters on Saturday targeted a television station and a newspaper and set fire to the controller general's office.

President Lenin Moreno declared a curfew and placed the city under military control to stop the unrest. On Sunday, police dispersed a group of protesters who tried to erect a barricade with debris from Saturday's violence. 

The crisis broke out in early October after Moreno ordered fuel subsidies cut as part of a deal struck by his government to obtain a $4.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund.

CONAIE had previously rejected an offer of dialogue but reversed course Saturday and said the talks would focus on "the repeal or revision of the decree" that has left consumers paying more than double for fuel.

"Our hope is that, God willing, today we can sit down and talk and end all this," said Quishpe, a former governor of an Amazon province.

Ecuador's indigenous groups make up a quarter of the country's 17.3 million people. Thousands from disadvantaged communities in the Amazon and the Andes have travelled to Quito where they are spearheading demands that the subsidies continue.

Media attacked

Demonstrators on Saturday ransacked and set fire to the building housing the controller general's office, which was shrouded in thick smoke after being attacked with fire bombs.

The prosecutor's office said 34 people were arrested.

Nearby, protesters built barricades in front of the National Assembly building as police fired tear gas at them.

The Teleamazonas TV channel interrupted its regular broadcast to air images of broken windows, a burned vehicle and heavy police presence on the scene.

The station evacuated 25 employees, none of them hurt.

El Comercio newspaper reported on Twitter that its offices were attacked by a "group of unknowns." It did not provide further details.

"We have nothing to do with the events at the comptroller's office and Teleamazonas," said CONAIE.

Protesters did not immediately heed the curfew that went into effect at 2000 GMT, with security forces still struggling to impose order in some parts of the city as night fell.

"Where are the mothers and fathers of the police? Why do they let them kill us?" cried Nancy Quinyupani, an indigenous woman.

The restrictions in Quito, a city of 2.7 million, came on top of a state of emergency Moreno had declared on October 3, deploying some 75,000 military and police and imposing a nighttime curfew in the vicinity of government buildings.

The violence has forced Moreno to relocate his government to Ecuador's second city, Guayaquil, and has hit the oil industry hard with the energy ministry suspending more than two-thirds of its distribution of crude.

Protesters seized three oil facilities in the Amazon earlier this week.

Moreno is struggling with an economic crisis that he blames on waste and corruption by Correa's administration.