Quito, Jun 28 (EFE).- Ecuadorian President Guillermo Lasso called a halt Tuesday to talks with the indigenous organization leading protests over the high cost of living in the wake of a soldier’s death in a confrontation with people blocking a road.
In a nationally televised address, the right-wing billionaire put the blame for the rupture on Leonidas Iza, leader of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie).
“One cannot sit down to talk with those who seek to kidnap the peace of Ecuadorians,” Lasso said, citing what he called an attack on police and troops escorting a convoy of fuel trucks in the Amazon region.
Besides the soldier who was killed, a dozen other police and troops were wounded, “several of them seriously,” the president said.
More than two weeks of protests have left six people dead and roughly 400 others injured.
“We will not return to a dialogue with Leonidas Iza, who defends only his own political interests and not those of his base,” Lasso said.
The protesters in the town of Shushufindi who refused to make way for the convoy attacked the police and soldiers with “firearms and lances,” the president said.
But according to the Alliance for Human Rights, none of the protesters has a weapon and the clash occurred when the vehicles in the convoy tried to force their way past the demonstrators shortly after 12:30 am Tuesday.
The police and soldiers used tear gas, rubber bullets and even live rounds to disperse the crowd, spurring a larger disturbance that lasted nearly three hours, the Alliance said on Twitter, pointing to evidence in the form of images and videos posted on social media.
After protracted bargaining, the discussions between members of Lasso’s administration and leaders of the protests, including Iza, got under way on Monday at the Basilica of the National Vow, a monumental neo-Gothic church in the heart of Quito.
The president, who has not been present for the talks, mediated by Catholic prelates and other notables, said that his government has provided “concrete responses” to the complaints of the protesters.
Not long after Lasso concluded his speech, Conaie said that the government was “confirming its authoritarianism, lack of will and incapacity.”
“Lasso does not break with Leonidas, he breaks with the people,” Conaie said on Twitter.
Speaking at the Basilica, Iza called the events of early Tuesday a “provocation” by the armed forces and urged the formation of an independent commission to investigate.
The first session of the dialogue saw the government agree to withdraw a decree promoting expansion of the oil and gas industry in Amazonia and pledge not to grant any new mining concessions in protected areas.
Conaie, however, countered by demanding a bigger cut in fuel prices than the 10 cents-per-liter reduction the administration announced Sunday.
The Lasso government had earlier offered concessions including debt forgiveness of up to $3,000 per rural household and a 50 percent subsidy for urea, used as a fertilizer. EFE sm/dr