191009 Ecuador
Riot police and a soldier are seen outside the National Assembly during protests against Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno's austerity measures, in Quito, Ecuador October 8, 2019. Image Credit: Reuters

Quito, Ecuador: Police and demonstrators clashed Tuesday outside Ecuador’s Congress building as protests over a fuel hike introduced by President Lenin Moreno’s government intensified.

Fresh violence erupted as thousands of demonstrators converged on the capital Quito to protest soaring fuel prices at a planned demonstration on Wednesday with transport and student unions.

Protesters, many of them indigenous men armed with sticks and whips, tried to break through a security cordon around the national assembly building, AFP photographers said.

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Riot-police using tear gas eventually managed to disperse the crowd.

Demonstrators made a previous attempt to storm the building on Monday. Moreno, who declared a state of emergency over the nationwide protests last Thursday, has moved government headquarters to the coastal city of Guayaquil.

A week of protests against soaring fuel prices have slashed the South American country’s oil output by a third.

Oil production fell 31 percent after seizure of three oil facilities in the Amazon, the energy ministry said Tuesday.

Production losses at the state-owned Petroamazonas “will reach 165,000 barrels per day,” the ministry said in a statement. Ecuador, which exited the OPEC international oil cartel last week citing economic constraints, produces 531,000 bpd.

Moreno’s declaration of a state of emergency last week failed to deter the advance of indigenous protesters who have repeatedly clashed with security forces on their journey to the capital from the far reaches of the country on foot and in pickup trucks.

Moreno on Tuesday tried to head off Wednesday’s planned protest by offering to hold talks with “the indigenous brothers”.

He added that income from the elimination of fuel subsidies would be spent “on the poorest”.

Addressing the nation on Monday as the scale of the crisis affecting his country began to unfold, Moreno had accused his predecessor and ex-ally Rafael Correa along with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an “attempted coup d’etat.”

They were using “indigenous groups, taking advantage of their mobilization to plunder and destroy,” he charged.

Moreno’s accusation drew support Tuesday from seven Latin American countries, rejecting “any action” by Maduro and his allies to “destabilize” Ecuador.

“The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Peru and Paraguay, express their resounding rejection of any destabilizing attempt of legitimately constituted democratic regimes and express their strong support for the actions undertaken” by Moreno, according to a joint statement issued by the Colombian government.

All seven countries have right wing governments that see Moreno’s moderate socialist administration as an important regional ally against Venezuela.

Call for early election

Correa meanwhile called for early elections, citing “serious social upheaval”, while denying Moreno’s accusations that he was fomenting a coup.

“There’s no coup here. Conflicts in democracy are resolved at the polls,” the Belgium-based Correa said in a video published on social media.

Correa, who was president of the Andean nation from 2007-17, is wanted in his homeland on suspicion of ordering the kidnapping of a political opponent while he was president.

Some 20,000 protesters were due to arrive in the capital by Wednesday, according to indigenous umbrella organization CONAIE.

Thousands had already reached the capital on Monday and camped in parks or occupied buildings.

The country has been rocked by days of demonstrations after increases of up to 120 percent in fuel prices came into force on October 3.

They have so far left one civilian dead and 77 people injured, the majority of them security forces, the government said. A total of 477 people have been detained.

Moreno scrapped fuel subsidies as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to obtain loans despite Ecuador’s high public debt.

The subsidies were costing the government $1.3 billion a year.

The IMF agreement, signed in March, allowed Ecuador to borrow $4.2 billion.