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Thursday 19 July 2018

Ecuador crippled by anti-Correa general strike

Protesters fire a rocket against the police during a confrontation near the government palace in Quito (AP)
Protesters fire a rocket against the police during a confrontation near the government palace in Quito (AP)

A general strike against President Rafael Correa virtually paralysed Ecuador's capital, provincial cities and major roads.

Violent clashes broke out between protesters and police in several cities.

A diverse coalition mobilised thousands of indigenous activists, unionists and environmentalists who blocked roads with tree trunks, rocks and burning tyres. Public transport was scarce in Quito, the capital.

At midday, police fired tear gas at one point in a vain attempt to dislodge indigenous protesters on the Pan-American near the Cotopaxi volcano.

Later riot police turned back about 10,000 protesters who tried to reach Quito's central San Francisco Plaza, some hurling sticks and rocks at police. At least a dozen officers and a similar number of protesters were injured.

Indigenous leaders reported several arrests. The government did not release figures on arrests or injuries.

Facing the first national strike against him in eight years in office, Mr Correa blamed the far right, his usual nemesis.

In remarks to a youth group, the left-wing economist called on supporters to clear the streets. "These things must be rejected, not by the security forces but by the citizenry," he said of the barricades. "A small group is trying to impose its policies on us."

Ecuador's growing anti-Correa movement has become more diverse, however. It is united chiefly by a rejection of pending legislation that would permit Mr Correa's indefinite re-election when his third term ends in 2017.

The president's popularity owes to generous government spending on social welfare and infrastructure including highways, but his support level in opinion polls is now 45% - its lowest ever.

Indigenous groups are upset by Mr Correa's refusal to consult them on mining and oil exploration on traditional lands; union activists are angry at a new workplace code that they see as stripping them of freedom of association and protest; and business people are upset by new taxes, including import tariffs and a 75% tax on property sales and inheritances that Mr Correa announced, but then suspended after a public outcry.

Ecuador is heavily dependent on oil revenues and Mr Correa has faced mounting protests since this year's plunge in crude prices forced him to impose cost-cutting measures.

His abrasive, sometimes impetuous style and scant tolerance for dissent have drawn steady complaints from international human rights groups, who accuse him of stifling of free speech and an independent judiciary.

Indigenous protest leader Carlos Perez said the strike would not end until Mr Correa listened to citizens' complaints.

"If we don't get answers we're prepared to continue the protest for two days, or 15 days - whatever it takes to open the deaf ears of President Correa," he said.

Press Association

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