Quito, Jun 16 (EFE).- An indefinite strike by Ecuador’s indigenous movement against conservative president Guillermo Lasso’s government continued on Wednesday, although tensions eased after the release of prominent indigenous leader Leonidas Iza, who called for the protests that began earlier in the week.
In his first official statement after being released on bail, Iza, president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), the country’s largest indigenous organization, accused Lasso over his arrest, which he described as “political kidnapping,” and urged his supporters to continue the “national and indefinite” protest.
“You (the government) will continue to put pressure on judges and prosecutors. We go to the very end, to the IACHR (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) to defend our rights,” Iza said.
The indigenous leader categorically denied the charges against him of paralyzing public services with road blockades on Monday, the first day of the protests.
“We reject all the persecution against me these days. Not a single (person) injured or detained anymore. Nor a colleague who suddenly loses his life,” Iza added.
At least 22 people have been injured so far, including 12 protesters in the Andean province of Cotopaxi and in the Amazon province of Sucumbíos, Conaie said, in addition to 10 soldiers, who were injured early morning while repelling an attempt to take over the facilities of state-run oil company Petroecuador.
There have been 32 arrests, according to Conaie, including that of Iza, while the interior ministry’s latest report puts the number at 20.
Interior Minister Patricio Carillo reported a new “kidnapping” of police officers, this time of seven agents who were held by a community in Cotopaxi and released hours later following mediation by the provincial governor.
Meanwhile, the crude oil production of Petroecuador and private company PetrOriente dropped to 2,500 barrels after stoppages at several oil extraction wells in the Amazon operated by them.
The floricultural export union also accused protesters of extortion to allow their vehicles to pass.
A march by thousands of students in the historic center of the Ecuadorian capital, Quito, on Wednesday was dispersed by the police using tear gas.
A day earlier, university student groups in the country joined the indefinite protest against the government’s economic policies called by the indigenous movement.
President Lasso said on social media that his administration was open to dialog but warned that he would not give in to “violent groups seeking to impose their rules.”
“Protest agendas are legitimate, but they cannot be based on deception and the pursuit of violence,” he added.
The United Nations on Wednesday called on the Ecuadorian government to respect the right to protest and to guarantee due process to all those arrested during the demonstrations while urging social actors to “exercise their right to protest in a peaceful manner.”
The protesters’ demands include freezing gasoline costs at a lower price, control of prices of consumer products and opposition to a privatization plan, as well as a moratorium on debt payments and another on the expansion of boundaries for mining/oil operations. EFE.