QUITO, Ecuador (AFP) — Clashes broke out between protesters and police in Ecuador after President Lenín Moreno declared a state of emergency Thursday after demonstrations against rising fuel prices, due to the government’s scrapping subsidies.
Police fired tear gas at protesters who threw stones and firebombs close to the seat of government in the historic center of the capital Quito.
Moreno told reporters he had taken the measure “to safeguard the security of citizens and to avoid chaos.”
The protests — the largest in a decade — were led by the transport sector and included students and other groups. They paralyzed public transportation in some areas, while clashes between police and demonstrators blocked roads.
More than 21 police officers have been injured in the violence and 277 people have been arrested for “vandalism,” said defense minister Oswaldo Jarrín.
No figures were available for the number of people wounded; some news photographers were hurt during the clashes.
The demonstrations came in response to increases of up to 120% in fuel prices, which came into force Thursday after the government eliminated subsidies as part of an agreement with the International Monetary Fund to obtain loans despite its high public debt.
The subsidies were costing the government $1.3 billion a year.
The IMF agreement, signed in March, allowed Ecuador to borrow $4.2 billion.
Moreno blames the deterioration in the country’s finances on his predecessor, Rafael Correa, who has sought asylum in Belgium.
He is wanted in Ecuador on suspicion of kidnapping a political opponent in 2012 during his 10-year presidency.
The emergency measure allows the government to restrict movement, to employ the armed forces to maintain order and to censor the press.
It will be in place for 60 days, after which it can be extended for 30 days, the government said.
School suspensions were extended into Friday, and buses and taxis stopped operating in Quito and other large cities.
Unions and indigenous organizations are also planning protests.
Moreno said he would not allow protesters to “impose chaos,” and called for an end to “acts of vandalism and acts of violence.”
Between 1996 and 2007, mass street protests forced the resignation of three presidents — a turbulent period in which Ecuador had a total of seven holders of its highest office.
© Agence France-Presse