Ecuador police officers missing after protest attack

Ecuador police officers missing after protest attack

Ecuadoran police officers stand guard as Indigenous people gather in Quito
Ecuadoran police officers stand guard as Indigenous people gather in Quito

QUITO - Ecuador on Wednesday refused protesters' demands to lift a state of emergency and said 18 police officers were missing following an attack by Indigenous groups on a police station.

Two people have died in 10 days of nationwide protests, while the government has declared an emergency in six of Ecuador's 24 departments following clashes between demonstrators and security forces.

Around 90 civilians and 100 security personnel have been injured, while Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo said that 18 officers were missing after the attack on the police station in the Amazonian city of Puyo.

Another six officers were seriously injured and three more detained by protesters, he said. A protester also died Tuesday in the attack in Puyo, a five-hour drive south of the capital Quito.

"The mob began setting fires with police still inside patrol cars, began looting, burning... until they ended up torching the police facilities in the center of the city," said Carrillo.

President Guillermo Lasso has proposed dialogue with the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which called the protests, in a bid to end the escalating violence.

But Conaie leader Leonidas Iza has said any talks were conditional on the state of emergency being repealed and the "demilitarization" of a park in Quito that is a rallying point for Indigenous people but is currently under the control of security forces.

Ecuador, a small South American country riddled by drugs trafficking, has been hit by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty -- all exacerbated by the pandemic.

Iza said on Wednesday the government has "blood on its hands" for its response to the protests.

"We cannot lift the state of exception because that would leave the capital defenseless, and we already know what happened in October 2019 and we will not allow that," Minister of Government Francisco Jimenez told the Teleamazonas channel.

Conaie led two weeks of protests in 2019 in which 11 people died and more than 1,000 were injured. In the Quito, Indigenous protesters occupied congress and damaged public and private property.

- Demand for lower fuel prices -

The capital is once again the focus of the protests.

On Wednesday, around 1,000 Indigenous people converged on the city center in small groups, setting up road blocks with tree trunks along the way and chanting "Lasso out!"

Soldiers protected the seat of government with barbed wire and metal barriers.

Olmedo Ayala, 42, said Indigenous people were "very annoyed with the government.

"We live in economic crisis in the countryside, there is no development there, we have no sources of work, we're just farmers and our women (live off) milking" livestock.

Conaie, which has mobilized at least 10,000 people in Quito, hundreds of whom have clashed with security forces in recent days, wants the government to lower fuel prices.

Ecuador exports crude oil but imports much of the fuel it consumes.

"It is not the time to put more conditions, to make more demands. It is the moment to sit down and talk," said Jimenez.

"Unfortunately there has been accidental loss of life, according to the information we have, and we cannot keep waiting."

An Indigenous protester died after he was "hit in the face, apparently with a tear gas bomb" on Tuesday following the confrontation with security forces in Puyo, a lawyer for the Alliance of Human Rights Organizations told AFP.

The police said "it was presumed that the person died as a result of handling an explosive device."

Another protester died on Monday after falling into a ravine outside Quito, with police claiming that too was an accident.

However, the public prosecutor's office has opened a murder investigation.

The Alliance said 90 people have been injured and 87 arrested since protests began on June 13.

Police say 101 officers and military personnel have been injured, with another 27 temporarily detained by protesters. It said 80 civilians have been arrested.

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