Ecuador protests push government out of capital

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Mounted riot police are seen near the National Assembly during protests against Ecuador's President Lenin Moreno's austerity measures, in Quito, Ecuador on October 8, 2019.

Thousands of protesters staged anti-government rallies Wednesday, seeking to intensify pressure on Ecuador's president after a week of unrest sparked by fuel price hikes.

On Tuesday, his government said it would be open to mediation by the United Nation or the Catholic Church to overcome the crisis.

It comes hours after President Moreno announced that he had temporarily moved government operations from the capital to the port city of Guayaquil.

Protesters barricaded roads in various parts of Ecuador from Wednesday morning with debris, while security forces blocked a major bridge in Guayaquil to thwart them.

It's the biggest challenge to President Moreno's two-and-a-half year rule.

"[This] is not a protest of social dissatisfaction with a government decision but the looting, vandalism and violence show there is an organized political motive to destabilize the government", Moreno said in televised address on Monday, flanked by the vice-president, defense minister and military top brass.

Elsewhere in Quito and other flash points, masked and stick-wielding protesters again hurled stones and battled with security forces, who responded with tear gas. "Today the Assembly and later we'll take Carondelet", said one protester, referring to the presidential palace in the capital.

Officials said law enforcement forces will continue to patrol the streets under the state of emergency until peace and stability return to the country.

The military's backing is key for Moreno, who said late Tuesday that his government is negotiating with indigenous groups in a bid to quell the discontent.

But a government statement said: "There are groups bent on causing chaos and confrontation, endangering democratic order".

Moreno - who blames the deterioration in the country's finances on Correa - declared a state of emergency on Thursday. The government says at least 700 people have been arrested.

Moreno said last week that the subsidies have cost the government heavily in recent years and he dropped them in a bid to stimulate Ecuador's economy.

In a tweet, Juan Guiado, Venezuela's self-proclaimed interim leader, accused a "group financed by (Nicolas) Maduro's accomplices" of fuelling unrest, echoing conspiracy accusations against Guiado's socialist rival for the Venezuelan presidency made by Moreno.

"They are such liars. They say I am so powerful that with an iPhone from Brussels I could lead the protests", he told Reuters, holding up his mobile telephone. In Quito, several people fell injured, witnesses said, as helicopters buzzed downtown. Moreno's popularity has gotten off the ground 30%, compared with 70% in 2017.

The South American nation has been rocked by protests after Moreno unveiled austerity measures thinly veiled as economic reforms - a part of his anticipated aid deal with the International Monetary Fund (INF) in a bid to overhaul the country's debt.

"Maduro has activated, with Correa, his plan for destabilization".

"Correa has a direct interest in forcing Moreno out, not just as political revenge for Moreno's "betrayal" but in an attempt to dodge multiple judicial investigations now underway against him and several former lieutenants".

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