By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO (Reuters) – A group of opposition lawmakers in Ecuador are pushing for the removal of conservative President Guillermo Lasso after nearly two weeks of mass protests led by indigenous groups demanding lower fuel and food prices, though other legislators say they will not back his ouster.
The sometimes-violent demonstrations, which began on June 13, have led to at least six civilian deaths and featured multiple attacks on security forces.
The protests have worsened Lasso’s already-adversarial relationship with the national assembly, whose lawmakers have blocked his major economic proposals as he has struggled to contain rising violence he blames on drug gangs.
Lawmakers from the opposition UNES movement, loyal to former leftist President Rafael Correa, called on Twitter for elections – not scheduled until 2025 – to be moved forward.
The constitution allows lawmakers to remove presidents and call elections during a political crisis or mass unrest.
“The country can’t take it anymore,” UNES lawmaker Fausto Jarrin said. Jarrin formally asked the legislature to convene a debate on the removal process. “Dialogue is being broken by all sides, with violence.”
Lawmakers from other parties would individually support the efforts, Jarrin said.
Lasso’s removal would require the support of 92 of the assembly’s 137 lawmakers. Lasso can also dissolve the legislature and call for elections.
The government criticized the UNES move, insisting it has made significant concessions through decree and is willing to discuss the issues. Lawmakers from three other parties including Lasso’s rejected the move to oust him and said they support dialogue between the government and indigenous groups.
Despite some government concessions, there has been little sign of a rapprochement between officials and protesters, who are led by indigenous group CONAIE.
Indigenous leaders have demanded the withdrawal of security forces and an end to special measures put in place for six provinces before the two sides can discuss a list of 10 indigenous demands, including lower fuel prices and a halt to oil and mining development.
Lasso has announced subsidized fertilizers, bank debt forgiveness and budget increases for health and education. On Thursday, security forces withdrew from a cultural institution, allowing it to be used by protesters.
But violent confrontations overnight and in isolated incidents on Friday afternoon raised tensions once again, with CONAIE leader Leonidas Iza saying he supports attempts to remove Lasso.
CONAIE was having a meeting on Friday to weigh the government response to its demands.
Lasso tried to discredit Iza in video broadcast on social media on Friday afternoon, saying he is committed to addressing indigenous concerns and encouraging marchers to return home.
“The real intention of Mr. Iza is the overthrow of the government,” Lasso said. “The national police and the armed forces will act with necessary measures to defend under the law, using progressive use of force.”
Security forces are not facing down demonstrators, Interior Minister Patricio Carrillo told journalists, but criminals armed with firearms who have infiltrated marches.
Violence would be met with rubber pellets, he said. Security forces already deployed tear gas on Friday.
Seventeen military personnel were injured and three vehicles burned when a military convoy attempting to help truck drivers carrying food and medicine into the capital Quito was attacked, officials said.
Quito residents said supplies of domestic gas are running low, as are products in supermarkets.
The interior ministry has confirmed four deaths during the protests and the health ministry has said two people died in ambulances delayed by road blockades.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Writing by Julia Symmes Cobb; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Grant McCool)