Tens of thousands of protesters have surrounded the presidential palace in Quito, where Lenin Moreno returned after fleeing. Demonstrations sparked by spending cuts linked to an IMF loan have led to violent clashes over the week.
After seven consecutive days, the expression of discontent has burgeoned into a general strike. “This is a national strike and what we’ve seen here on the front line is absolute chaos,” said RT correspondent Nicolas O’Donovan, reporting from outside the presidential palace, where “the air is heavy with tear gas [and] smoke.”
Though President Lenin Moreno had reportedly fled south to the city of Guayaquil earlier this week, where he relocated the seat of Ecuador’s government, O’Donovan said the president had returned to Quito to “monitor the situation on the ground” from an undisclosed location.
That situation has been one of “extreme tension,” O’Donovan said, with protesters equipping themselves with bricks, stones and even petrol bombs against a heavily armed police force guarding the palace. The officers responded with clubs, stun grenades and copious amounts of tear gas.
The Red Cross has suspended all activities in the capital city over safety concerns, including ambulance services, with teams of volunteers providing improvised treatment to dozens of protesters injured in the clashes.
The demonstrators, many hailing from poor and indigenous communities around the country, reportedly plan to remain outside the palace until dusk, though O’Donovan said some will stay overnight, defying a curfew order issued earlier this week. They hope the days of rage will convince the government to come to the table for a dialogue and ultimately reverse the austerity measures, namely the elimination of fuel subsidies.
“The people here say that the government is going to save the banks and big business instead of the people, and that’s why all these people are here protesting,” O’Donovan said.
President Moreno has remained defiant in the face of the strike, insisting he will not back down from the recent economic reforms, though his aides confirmed they were participating in preliminary talks with the protest leaders, mediated by the United Nations and the Catholic Church.