Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Published at 14:58 GMT
Ecuador protesters clash with police
Police and soliders are on alert
Ecuadoran police fired tear gas to disperse anti-government demonstrators in the capital, Quito, during a general strike to protest against government austerity measures.
On the first day of the two-day strike, thousands of people barricaded provincial highways with rocks and trees causing long traffic jams.
Demonstrators hurled stones at police and burned tyres on the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador's main port city 270 km (170 miles) south-west of Quito.
The government says it will prevent any demonstration that threatens public order.
Banks, markets and factories were closed and, apart from the odd demonstration, the streets of Quito were largely deserted.
Banks to stay shut
The banks have been closed since the weekend, but the government has denied that it is planning to seize foreign currency savings.
Finance Minister Ana Lucia Armijos said the president would announce emergency economic measures on Thursday.
The government is battling against a further decline in the value of the national currency, the sucre, which last week lost a quarter of its value against the US dollar.
One possibility is that the sucre will become pegged to the dollar.
The general strike is the second since President Mahuad came to power seven months ago.
His attempts to cut public spending have met widespread opposition.
The BBC's South America Correspondent James Reynolds says this is a time of great social and economic uncertainty in Ecuador.
During the last year the country's economy has been severely hit by the fall in the price of oil - its main export - and by the effects of the El Niño weather phenomenon.