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The BBC's James Reynolds
"Indigenous leaders feel that they have been tricked"
 real 28k

Saturday, 3 February, 2001, 03:23 GMT
Ecuador calls state of emergency
A protester runs away from tear gas thrown by police officer during a rally in Quito
A week of protests has seen angry clashes in the capital
Ecuadorean President Gustavo Noboa has declared a state of emergency in the face of mounting protests by Ecuadorean Indians against government austerity measures.

The presidential decree allows the army and police to use force for a limited period to re-establish order throughout the country.

Thousands of Ecuadorean Indians have intensified their protests against Mr Noboa's economic policies since talks between protest leaders and government negotiators failed on Friday.

Protesters and a riot policeman in Quito
Protesters have paralysed the capital
In a BBC interview, the Indian leader, Antonio Vargas, blamed the government for the suspension of talks and said his supporters would paralyse the country.

About 4,000 of his supporters have been occupying Salesiana Polytechnic University near downtown Quito since Monday, using it as a base for demonstrations.

They are demanding that the president rescind a 100% increase in fuel prices and a 75% hike in public transport fares.

Far-reaching powers

"Right now, we are going through a state of internal upheaval," said Mr Noboa's spokesman, who explained that the president was acting within his constitutional rights.

Indian road block
Indians have blocked roads to the capital
"At the moment the situation has disappeared, the state of emergency will be immediately lifted," the spokesman, Alfredo Negrete, said.

The emergency powers allow the government to limit group meetings and nationwide travel, inspect private homes and dispatch military and police forces as necessary.

On Thursday, two indigenous leaders were arrested and released shortly afterwards - Mr Vargas, who is president of the powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, and Estuardo Remache, president of the Confederation of Quechua Peoples of Ecuador.

'Tricked' from power

It is a little over a year since thousands of indigenous protestors took part in the military coup which brought down President Jamil Mahuad.

For a few hours their leader, Antonio Vargas, was a member of an ad hoc ruling junta. But shortly after the coup the armed forces handed power to Gustavo Noboa, the then vice president.

Indigenous leaders felt that they had been tricked and they have mistrusted Mr Noboa ever since.

Government leaders have defended Noboa's economic programme - an IMF backed plan in which the US dollar replaces the sucre - as the only means to fight inflation that has peaked over 90%, the highest level in Latin America.

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See also:

02 Feb 01 | Americas
US captive murdered in Ecuador
30 Jan 01 | Americas
Ecuador arrests indigenous leader
30 Jan 01 | Americas
Indians march on Ecuador capital
22 Jan 00 | Americas
Coup declared in Ecuador
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