Ecuador protest talks set for Sunday as capital locks down

People march during an anti-government protest in Quito, Ecuador, 09 October 2019. (EPA)
Updated 13 October 2019

Ecuador protest talks set for Sunday as capital locks down

  • The rolling demonstrations have left six people dead and nearly 2,100 wounded or detained
  • Ecuador’s indigenous groups make up a quarter of the country’s 17.3 million people

QUITO, Ecuador: A first meeting between Ecuador’s president and indigenous leaders will take place on Sunday, the United Nations said, after Lenin Moreno ordered a curfew and military control in the capital to try to quell deadly, anti-austerity protests.

The rolling demonstrations have left six people dead and nearly 2,100 wounded or detained, according to authorities, with protesters on Saturday targeting a television station and a newspaper as well as setting fire to the comptroller general’s office.

Sunday’s meeting will be held in the capital Quito, the UN and Catholic Church said in a joint statement.

“We put our trust in the goodwill of all to establish a dialogue in good faith and find a quick solution to the complicated situation in the country,” they added.

The crisis broke out at the start of 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, the indigenous umbrella group leading the protests, had previously rejected an offer of dialogue and said the talks would focus on “the repeal or revision of the decree” that has left consumers paying more than double for fuel.

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 traveled to Quito where they are spearheading demands that the subsidies continue.

Demonstrators on Saturday ransacked and set fire to the building housing the comptroller 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, according to AFP journalists.

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

“For about half an hour, we were under attack. They threw stones at us, forced open the doors and threw Molotov cocktails,” presenter Milton Perez said.

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 3:00 p.m. (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.

In televised comments, Moreno said Saturday “was a sad day for Ecuador.” “Dark forces linked to organized political delinquency and led by Correa and Maduro, with the complicity of narcoterrorism, criminal groups and violent foreign citizens have caused never-before-seen violence,” he added.

It is the second time Moreno has accused his predecessor Rafael Correa and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of orchestrating the crisis to destabilize the country.

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.

Violence flares again in Hong Kong as Chinese soldiers make rare appearance to help clean up streets

Updated 16 November 2019

Violence flares again in Hong Kong as Chinese soldiers make rare appearance to help clean up streets

  • Huge fires blaze as protesters hurl petrol bombs near campus
  • City on edge as over five months of demonstrations rumble on

HONG KONG: Police fired tear gas while protesters threw petrol bombs and fired arrows in clashes outside Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University on Saturday, just hours after Chinese soldiers made a rare appearance to help clean up the city’s streets.
China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers in shorts and t-shirts appeared in streets outside their base, helping residents clean up debris after anti-government protests blocked roads.
The presence of PLA troops on the streets, even to help clean up, could stoke further controversy over the Chinese-ruled territory’s autonomous status.
A city spokesman said the Hong Kong government did not request assistance from the PLA but the military initiated the operation as a “voluntary community activity.”
Hong Kong has been rocked by more than five months of demonstrations by protesters angry at perceived Communist Party meddling in the former British colony, which was guaranteed its freedoms when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing denies interfering and has blamed the unrest on foreign influences.
Clashes between protesters and police have become increasingly violent. China has said any attempt at independence for Hong Kong will be crushed, but troops have remained inside their base.
Chinese state media repeatedly broadcast comments made on Thursday by President Xi Jinping, in which he denounced the unrest and said “stopping violence and controlling chaos while restoring order is currently Hong Kong’s most urgent task.”
Saturday’s clean-up followed some of the worst violence seen this year, after a police operation against protesters at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Tuesday.
The authorities have since largely stayed away from at least five university campuses that had been barricaded by thousands of students and activists who stockpiled petrol bombs, catapults, bows and arrows and other weapons.
Many protesters appeared to have left the campuses by late Saturday but Hong Kong’s Cross-Harbor Tunnel was still blocked by protesters occupying Polytechnic University, where violence flared again on Saturday night.
“We don’t want to attack the police, we just want to safeguard our campus,” said Chan, a 20-year-old Polytechnic student. “The reason why we want safeguard our campus is we want citizens to join the mass strike and protect Hong Kong.”
Earlier, hundreds of pro-China demonstrators gathered by the city’s legislature and police headquarters, waving Chinese and Hong Kong flags. Some held up posters reading “Police we stand with you,” while others chanted “Support the police.”
Pro-China protests have so far attracted much smaller numbers than those angry at Beijing.

Rare troop presence
By late afternoon, the PLA soldiers had left the streets outside Baptist University beside their barracks in Kowloon Tong.
Chinese troops have appeared on streets only once since the 1997 handover to help clear up after a typhoon in 2018. It was not clear how many were involved on Saturday.
The PLA garrison in Hong Kong said that when some residents began cleaning, some troops “helped clear the road in front of the garrison gate.”
Demosistō, a pro-democracy organization, said Saturday’s clean-up operation could set a “grave precedent” if the city’s government invites the military to deal with internal problems.
In August, Beijing moved thousands of troops across the border into Hong Kong in what state news agency Xinhua described as a routine rotation. Foreign envoys and security analysts estimate up to 12,000 troops are now based across Hong Kong — more than double the usual garrison number.
Standing beside a black flag with the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times,” James Wong, 23, was among protesters manning a bridge at Baptist University.
“We didn’t want to confront the people and the PLA troops directly,” he told Reuters. “We are not directly against the PLA, but rather the government. But the PLA should not leave their base because this is Hong Kong territory.”
Hundreds of residents moved in to help clear barricaded roads near several universities.
Earlier clashes on Saturday saw at least one petrol bomb thrown before anti-government protesters at the campuses retreated. No soldiers appeared to have been involved in the confrontations. “We just want our lives to continue,” said one resident who was helping clear streets near Hong Kong University. “There are many elderly who need to go the hospital and children who need to go to school. I am very sad to see what is happening in my community.”

Pro-police demonstration
Saturday’s rally to denounce the anti-government violence drew a mix of young and elderly.
“A lot of people keep silent, afraid of the rioters. It’s time for all the people who are silent to step up and say that’s enough,” said a 49-year-old housewife surnamed Kong.
A 70-year-old street cleaner died on Thursday after being hit on the head a brick police said had been thrown by rioters. On Monday, police blamed a rioter for dousing a man in petrol and setting him on fire. The victim is in critical condition.
On the same day, police shot a protester in the abdomen. He was in a stable condition.
Pro-police protesters laid white flowers outside the government office to pay their respects to the cleaner. Others applauded and cheered the police, some bowing and giving thumbs up as they walked past riot police on duty.
Train services suspended earlier in the week were gradually resuming, metro operator MTR Corp. said.
In a commentary on Saturday the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper called on public institutions to act “quickly and decisively” to suppress and punish violence in Hong Kong.