Indigenous groups in Ecuador block roads to protest economic policies

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QUITO, June 13 (Reuters) – Indigenous groups in Ecuador blocked some highways with mounds of earth and burning tires on Monday, kicking off what they said will be an indefinite protest against the economic policies of conservative President Guillermo Lasso.

Indigenous and social organizations are asking Lasso for 10 concessions, including that he freeze gasoline costs at a lower price, stop additional oil and mining development, and extend deadlines for small farmers to pay off debts with banks.

Roads were blocked in at least 16 provinces throughout the country during the day, indigenous organization CONAIE wrote on Twitter, while the government warned of increased violence in protests in a number of areas, adding that demonstrations were smaller than expected.

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Two marches took place in capital Quito, where police and students clashed near a school.

“We have had to resort to resistance in view of the national government putting in place more and more policies of death, which don’t allow us to sustain our small economies,” Leonidas Iza, head of CONAIE, told journalists.

“Mr. President, respond to the people on the most urgent, necessary and painful issues,” Iza said as he stood with dozens of other indigenous people on a highway south of Quito, urging Lasso not to allow the International Monetary Fund to “impose” policy.

POLICE KIDNAPPED, BOMB DETONATED

Lasso froze prices for the most-used gasoline and for diesel at higher rates than had been in place before he took office last October, sparking protests that ended when the government opened talks with indigenous groups and others. read more

The talks have continued since but indigenous leaders say the government is not listening to their concerns.

The South American country has agreed to financing of $6.5 billion with the IMF in a deal that finishes this year.

“This is a government looking for peace, looking for economic activation,” said Francisco Jimenez, the government minister tasked with managing negotiations.

Earlier, Jimenez told journalists that many of the demands have been met, with gasoline prices held steady for the last six months.

Roads connecting Quito with both the north and south of the country were blocked in some areas with earth, tires and trees.

Just three Andean provinces had blocked roads, the government said, though adding that an Amazon community had kidnapped some police, attacked farming infrastructure, and even detonated a bomb at an oil block, although production was not affected.

Strategic sectors will be protected, the government said. Lasso vowed on Sunday that he would not allow roads to be blocked, or for oil wells or public services to be captured by protesters.

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Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Additional reporting by Tito Correa; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Oliver Griffin; Editing by Mark Porter and Muralikumar Anantharaman

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