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Thursday, October 1, 1998 Published at 23:51 GMT 00:51 UK

World: Americas

Violent clashes during Ecuador strike

More than 20,000 police and troops were deployed across the country

Four people have died in violent clashes in Ecuador during a nationwide strike to protest against the government's economic program.

Two men died from gunshot wounds in northern Esmeraldas province, a security guard died in Isla Trinidad, south of coastal city Guayaquil, also wounded by gunshots fired during clashes between police and protesters.

A police officer was killed by an explosion in the town of Portoviejo.

Later on Thursday there were reports of another explosion outside the US consulate in the port city of Guayaquil.

Another bomb exploded in the headquarters of the ruling Popular Democracy Party in the same city on Wednesday.

Burning tires

[ image: President Mahuad: Economic reforms have angered strikers]
President Mahuad: Economic reforms have angered strikers
More than 20,000 police and troops were deployed across the country to keep order as workers, students and indigenous groups took part in the stoppage.

In the capital, Quito, many workers marched through the streets to assemble outside their places of employment. About 100 protesters burned tires and shouted slogans against the government in the centre of the capital.

About 12,000 police and troops cordoned off the square outside the government palace and attempted to clear access routes to the city.

A morning session at the National Congress was suspended by a bomb threat.

Price rises of 400%

The trades union organisers of the strike are angry at President Jamil Mahuad's economic reform programme.

The austerity package eliminated subsidies for gas, electricity and diesel and forced up the prices by more than 400%.

At the same time Mr Mahuad devalued the country's currency by 15%.

The strikers included workers, students, indigenous people and domestic workers, have denounced the economic measures for making life even harder for the country's low-income citizens.

Two hours after the strike began, President Mahuad left for the United States where he was to address the UN General Assembly on Friday.

He told a press conference that he would not alter the economic programme, which he said was necessary to combat Ecuador's severe economic problems.

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