Ecuador unrest: President imposes curfew on Quito, offers to talk

Announcement came as indigenous leaders agree to direct talks with Lenin Moreno, while chaos raged on capital's streets.

    Ecuador unrest: President imposes curfew on Quito, offers to talk
    Witnesses on social media have described Quito as looking like 'a war zone' [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

    As violent protests continue to rock Quito, Ecuadorian President Lenin Moreno imposed a curfew on the capital and offered talks with indigenous leaders demonstrating against the government's austerity measures.

    In a post on Twitter on Saturday, Moreno said he arranged the curfew and "militarisation" of Quito and the surrounding area to assist security efforts against what he called "the intolerable excesses of violence" in the area.

    Without giving details of what the militarisation would entail, Moreno said the curfew would take effect at 3pm (20:00GMT) on Saturday.

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    Police have clashed with protesters demonstrating against new austerity measures that have led to a rise in fuel prices. 

    The measures angered the country's politically active indigenous groups and trade unions, but demonstrations have since broadened into calls for Moreno to resign.

    Al Jazeera's Manuel Rampalo, reporting from the capital, described scenes of chaos on the streets of Quito.

    "The air is thick with smoke, there are tyres burning, there's tear gas in the air ... the dynamics of these demonstrations as well as the dynamics of the response by police changes minute to minute.

    "Emotions are high, the tensions are high, there's a lot of anger and with that growing anger, there's a growing demand from demonstrators.

    "This is no longer about economic policies, this is about a lack of confidence in the government as a whole," he said.

    Ecuador Quito protests
    Protests rage on the streets of Quito [Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters]

    Shortly before Moreno's announcement, the protests' indigenous leaders agreed to hold talks with the president.

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    The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE) said in a statement posted on Twitter that they had decided to participate in "direct dialogue" with Moreno a day after rejecting his offer for talks.

    Minutes after the CONAIE statement was released, Quito Mayor Jorge Machado told local television that the government will "analyse" the law that ended fuel subsidies.

    However, little changed on the ground, with Rampalo saying the agreement does not guarantee an end to protests.

    "Even with the leadership of the indigenous communities, there's a split. Not everybody agrees," he said, adding that people he'd spoken to have said the situation is already out of control. 

    Al Jazeera's Rapalo said it's uncertain whether the government will be able to appease protesters at this point.

    "The president has called for a dialogue with indigenous leaders but people we have spoken to here on the streets of Quito say the time has gone. They are not willing to negotiate."

    "They say that the situation has already gotten out of the control of the government and there are hundreds more people that continue to arrive from different parts of the country to lend their solidarity," he said.

    At least five people have been killed since the demonstrations began, according to the public defender's office, while thousands more have been injured.

    Protesters on Saturday blocked road access to the city's international airport and set fire to the national auditor's office as police responded with tear gas and rubber bullets and authorities imposed water and power cuts across the city.

    Ecuador's energy minister said on Saturday that closures of oil wells by protesters had curbed production of more than one million barrels of crude so far, while a Chinese-owned copper mine announced it was temporarily limiting its operations as a precautionary measure.

    Will protests in Ecuador force the president to resign?

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    Will protests in Ecuador force the president to resign?

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies