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Wednesday, March 10, 1999 Published at 14:58 GMT

World: Americas

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.

James Reynolds reports: " Soldiers have the power to use force"
The authorities have declared a state of emergency throughout the country, and brought in troops to guard power stations, oil installations and other essential locations.

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

[ image: President Jamil Mahuad: Protests over spending cuts]
President Jamil Mahuad: Protests over spending cuts
Banks are to remain closed until Thursday to prevent people from withdrawing their savings amid rumours that the government is to confiscate funds held in foreign currency accounts.

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.

Uncertain times

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.

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01 Oct 98 | Americas
Violent clashes during Ecuador strike

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