Armoured military vehicles patrolled the streets of Ecuador’s capital, Quito, on Sunday after police and protesters clashed and many residents defied a curfew imposed by President Lenin Moreno in a bid to quell unrest triggered by fuel subsidy cuts.
Ecuadoreans posted videos on social media of burning road blockades and standoffs between crowds and security forces in downtown Quito ahead of the first round of talks aimed at ending 11 days of unrest.
The interior minister said a group of vandals had again set fire to the comptroller’s office and that some 500 people had defied police barriers in the city.
The unrest was the worst in the small South American country in more than a decade and the latest flashpoint of opposition to the International Monetary Fund in Latin America. Moreno has cast the dispute as a battle between Venezuela and other left-leaning forces and more market-friendly ideologies.
Nearly 60 roads in the city were closed, the municipal government said, without elaborating.
“Blocking roads is punishable by law and even more so during a curfew,” said councilman Bernardo Abad.
Indigenous protesters vowed to continue protests across the country until Moreno reinstates fuel subsidies, a sign that a potential breakthrough in the dispute announced on Saturday might fade under the government crackdown.
The first round of talks between indigenous leaders and the government was set to begin at 3 p.m. local time in Quito, although no announcement had been made yet on who would take part or where exactly it would be held.
Moreno signed a $5.5 billion Cdn deal with the IMF earlier this year, angering many of his former supporters who voted for him as the left-leaning successor of his former ally, Rafael Correa.
Moreno has defended his decision last week to slash fuel subsidies as a key part of his bid to clean up the country’s finances, and denies it was required by the IMF.
Amid widespread defiance of the curfew by ordinary citizens, the military said it had partially lifted the emergency measure in the city until 8 p.m. local time on Sunday, but stressed it would remain in place in northern parts of the city near points of unrest.
The militarization of the city has fuelled criticism that the government’s handling of the protests has been too heavy-handed, with human rights groups urging security forces to use restraint.
At least seven people have been killed, several hundred wounded and more than 1,000 people arrested in the unrest since it began on Oct. 3, according to the ombudsman’s office, which monitors conflicts.
“Murderers!” one woman shouted from her window in the northern district of Mariscal as helicopters droned overhead and sounds resembling shots and explosions were heard.
Nearly all outgoing flights from the city were cancelled on Saturday and Sunday. The airport said it was feeding stranded travelers snacks and beverages as surrounding areas were restricted.
“We made our reservations and two days after we had everything booked, this problem exploded,” said Rodrigo Gomez, a Chilean tourist who ventured out of his hotel for food despite the crackdown. Gomez said he and his family had hoped to see the highland city’s famed lookout point “el Panecillo,” considered a pre-Colombian sun temple.
Moreno has blamed the unrest on “dark forces” linked to Correa, now a fierce critic of the government who has been churning out videos showing police attacking people.
As evidence, Moreno’s government has pointed to repeated attacks on the comptroller’s office, where documents related to an investigation into the misuse of funds under Correa are stored.
Correa denies the charges and has called Moreno a sellout for turning to the right after being elected on a leftist platform.
But Conaie, an umbrella group for indigenous peoples across Ecuador and the chief organizer of anti-austerity protests, has slammed Correa as an “shameless opportunist.”
“Correa’s movement criminalized and killed our people for 10 years,” Conaie said on Twitter. “Today he wants to take advantage of our platform for struggle.”