By Alexandra Valencia
QUITO (Reuters) -Thousands of indigenous protesters held a peaceful march through Ecuador’s capital, Quito, on Wednesday to demand that President Guillermo Lasso address price rises that have ignited 10 days of demonstrations across the country.
Disquiet over costs for fuel, food and other basics has exploded into sometimes-violent protests in several cities, led largely by major indigenous groups who traveled to Quito to protest.
“Everything is expensive, we can’t take it anymore,” said Jose Guaraca, who joined the peaceful protest after traveling from the indigenous city of Guamote in a truck to Quito to demand lower fuel prices and better income for farmers.
The demonstrations – longer-lasting and larger than marches over fuel prices in October last year – are testing Lasso’s ability to restart the country’s economy and kick-start employment.
Lasso has an adversarial relationship with the national assembly, whose lawmakers have blocked his proposals, and he has struggled to contain rising violence he blames on drug gangs.
Indigenous groups are demanding a fuel price cut, a halt to expanding oil and mining, and more time for farmer loan re-payments, but have conditioned dialogue on several concessions, including the removal of police from certain areas of Quito so indigenous leaders can meet. [nL1N2Y82F5]
Indigenous group CONAIE said on Wednesday afternoon it had sent a letter to Lasso outlining those terms.
The government said it was analyzing the communication with a view to beginning a productive dialogue.
“We’ve always had our door open to dialogue, we’ve only said that talks can’t make a mockery of the Ecuadorean people,” CONAIE President Leonidas Iza told protesters in a video the organization posted on Twitter.
Despite the peaceful afternoon march, the headquarters of the attorney general’s office in Quito was attacked for a second day in a row. Indigenous groups denied any involvement.
Protesters marched down Quito’s major roads carrying Ecuadorean flags and chanting anti-government slogans. Some indigenous marchers carried spears.
Demonstrations, led primarily by CONAIE, began last week with peaceful road blocks, but levels of violence have escalated in some areas, prompting conservative ex-banker Lasso to decree a state of exception in six provinces.
Violent clashes between soldiers and demonstrators armed with guns, spears and explosives took place Tuesday night in Puyo, an Amazonian city.
Later on Wednesday police commander Fausto Salinas said two officers who had been held by protesters in Puyo had been released and were in good health.
One protester named by an indigenous group as Byron Guatatoca died overnight amid the incidents in Puyo.
The protester was killed after being struck in the head by a police tear gas canister, according to human rights groups. The attorney general’s office said it would investigate.
Nationwide, 114 police officers have been injured and 104 people detained, the police said.
Another protester was killed last week after falling into a ravine, and the health ministry has said two people have died in ambulances delayed by road blockades.
(Reporting by Alexandra Valencia; Additional reporting by Santiago Arcos Writing by Oliver GriffinEditing by Alistair Bell and Leslie Adler)