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LATIN AMERICA | 08-10-2019 17:29

Argentina slams Maduro, offers 'strong support' for Ecuador's Moreno

Seven Latin American governments, including Argentina, offer 'strong support' for under-fire Ecuador President Lenín Moreno, who is facing large protests over rising fuel prices. Nations criticise 'any action' by Venezuelan leader Nicolás Maduro intended to 'destabilise' government.

Seven Latin American governments, including Argentina, have thrown their backing behind under-fire Ecuador President Lenín Moreno, issuing their "strong support" for the leader who is facing large protests over rising fuel prices.

The group also criticised Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, who Moreno has accused of trying to "destabilise" his government, along with his predecessor and former ally, Rafael Correa.

Thousands of indigenous people, some carrying long sticks, converged on Ecuador's capital on Tuesday as anti-government protests and clashes led the president to move his besieged administration out of Quito. The country of 17 million appears to be at a dangerous impasse, paralyzed by a lack of public transport and blockaded roads. 

Violence, which began last week when Moreno's decision to cut subsidies led to a sharp increase in fuel prices, has persisted for days. Several oil wells ceased production totalling 65,000 barrels daily because protesters seized installations, the Energy Ministry said on Tuesday.

Moreno called for dialogue to resolve the crisis in Ecuador. At the same time, however, he has accused Correa of trying to undermine his government with the help of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Ecuador is among dozens of nations that have called for Maduro's ouster.

The Venezuelan government has not commented on Moreno's allegations and the Ecuadorean leader has offered no evidence to back up his claims.

'Resounding rejection'

"The governments of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Paraguay and Peru express their resounding rejection of any destabilising attempts against legitimate democratic regimes," read a statement issued by Argentina's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday, adding that the nations "express their strong support for the actions undertaken by President Lenín Moreno to recover peace, institutionality and order, using the instruments granted by the Constitution and the law."

"Likewise, [the government's] reject any action aimed at destabilising our democracies by the regime of Nicolás Maduro and those who seek to extend the guidelines of his disastrous work to democratic countries of the region," the statement said.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó echoed Moreno's accusation on Tuesday, saying Maduro's associates are trying to destabilise Ecuador.

Correa and Moreno have traded allegations of corruption in recent months, and Correa says he and his allies are victims of political persecution. Correa, who has been living in Belgium, faces an arrest warrant issued last year in Ecuador for alleged corruption.

On Tuesday, Moreno met Cabinet ministers in the port city of Guayaquil after moving government operations there from Quito because of security threats.

He said he had the support of Ecuador's institutions and thanked them "for their defence of the democratic system."

Moreno's comments were broadcast by the Ecuavisa television network.

In a televised address late Monday, he said he was the target of a coup attempt, but would not back down from his decision to cut subsidies contributing to huge public debt that soared before he took office. The cuts were among measures announced as part of a US$4.2-billion funding plan with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which said the package will strengthen Ecuador's economy and generate jobs.

Several military commanders in uniform stood behind Moreno during his address on Monday, underscoring the Armed Forces' support.

On the streets, however, the chaos continues. On Monday, police abandoned an armoured vehicle to protesters who set it on fire. Elsewhere, rioters smashed car windows, broke into shops and confronted security forces who fired tear gas to try to disperse swelling crowds.

Some video footage has shown police beating protesters on the ground. Opponents have accused Moreno's government of human rights abuses in its attempts to quell disturbances.

Some 570 people have been arrested in Ecuador for crimes including attacks on people as well as public and private property, according to Juan Sebastián Roldán, the president's private secretary.

"What we're going through is not a peaceful mobilisation, it's delinquency and vandalism," Roldán said on Twitter.

The government last week declared a state of emergency, allowing it to curb some civil liberties – including the freedom of the press – as it tries to restore order.

The disturbances have spread from transport workers to students to indigenous demonstrators, an ominous turn for the government. Indigenous protesters played a major role in the 2005 resignation of Ecuador's president at the time, Lucio Gutiérrez, though the military's tacit approval was key to his removal.

The country's biggest indigenous group, the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador — which also had mounted protests against Correa — said Moreno's government had failed to address protesters' concerns and the welfare of Ecuador's "most vulnerable" people.

"Troops and police who approach indigenous territories will be detained and subjected to indigenous justice," the group said in a statement.

– TIMES/AP/AP

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