Ecuador paralyzed by national strike, Moreno refuses to resign

Ecuador was paralyzed by a national strike as President Lenin Moreno refused to renounce or overturn austerity measures that caused the worst unrest in a decade.

The streets were empty of traffic and businesses were shut down since the start of Quito and other cities during the shutdown in the latest crisis in Latin America because of unpopular structural reforms.

Security forces fired tear gas to separate hundreds of protesters marching near the presidential palace in central Quito, the highland capital.

Violent protests broke out in the Andean country of 17 million people a week ago when Moreno cut fuel subsidies as part of a package of measures in line with a $ 4,2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

"What the government has done is reward big banks, capitalists and punish poor Ecuadorians," said Mesías Tatamuez, head of the United Front Workers' Union.

The main Conaie indigenous group, which mobilized some 6.000 members to Quito from outlying areas, said Moreno's government was behaving like a “military dictatorship” by declaring a state of emergency and establishing a curfew overnight.

Protesters again barricaded roads on Wednesday morning with rubble, while security forces themselves blocked an important bridge in the coastal city of Guayaquil to prevent demonstrations.

Moreno, 66, who succeeded leftist leader Rafael Correa in 2017, moved his government to Guayaquil, where there was less disturbance than in Quito.

He challenged the calls to leave.

"I don't see why I should if I'm making the right decisions," Moreno said on Tuesday, arguing that Ecuador's large debt and fiscal deficit required reforms.

For days, protesters march and barricade roads with burning tires. Masked youths threw rocks at security forces, who responded with tear gas and water cannons.

“Our flag is red, like the blood of the working class!” Protesters chanted in downtown Quito, where anti-Moreno and anti-IMF graffiti covered walls.

“Moreno get out!” And “Police killers!” Some shouted.

Authorities arrested about 700 people in a week of rioting and dozens of police officers were injured.

Moreno accused his former friend, mentor and boss Correa of ​​seeking a coup with the help of his socialist colleague President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

Moreno served as Correa's vice president during his decade-long rule, but broke with him after winning the election and shifted economic policies to the right.

From Belgium, where he lives, Correa applauds the protesters but scoffs at accusations of attempting a coup. Maduro, deep in Venezuela's economic crisis, also denied involvement in Ecuador.

Moreno has support from the business elite and the military seems to remain loyal, but its popularity is less than half what it was two years ago and Ecuadorians are aware that indigenous protests helped topple three presidents before Correa.

“I feel betrayed by Moreno,” said printer Luis Calvopina, 53 years. "I don't want him to give up, but I want him to reverse this stupidity he did."

Source: Guardian

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