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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 March 2006, 23:55 GMT
Ecuador protests 'will continue'
Indigenous people walk past soldiers guarding a major road north of Quito, Ecuador
Indigenous groups fear a trade deal would harm their economy
Ecuador's indigenous groups have vowed to keep up protests against a proposed free trade deal with the US, which have now entered a fourth day.

They are blocking roads across the Andean highlands, where extra police and soldiers have been deployed.

Protesters rejected a government offer of a committee to investigate their concerns, calling it a smoke screen.

President Alfredo Palacio says the protests are designed to create chaos and bring down his government.

In a televised address on Wednesday night, he urged all Ecuadoreans to join ranks and protect democracy. He also said he would not bow to the demonstrations.

Ecuador's Interior Minister, Alfredo Castillo, resigned over the government's handling of the crisis.

Mr Castillo said he had warned the government that the protests - which started days after a strike by oil workers - could lead to a coup.

He is the third interior minister to resign from the post in just 11 months.


Since Monday, thousands of protesters have blocked major roads with burning tyres, rocks and trees.

Humberto Cholango, Indian leader and organiser told Reuters news agency on Thursday the protests will continue "until the government says it will quit this trade deal".

Protests in Ecuador

Demonstrators are calling for a referendum on the trade deal, but the government has described the call as premature.

They fear an agreement with the US would harm their economy and their culture, and would only benefit the wealthy.

But Mr Palacio said Ecuador needed to be open to the world, and insisted he would only sign a deal which was in the national interest.

Reports say the blockades have already led to a shortage of provisions and a rise in prices in the capital, Quito, and other central provinces.

Police have fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the thousands of indigenous protesters who have taken part in the blockades.

At least six people have been arrested and 14 others injured in minor scuffles with security forces, according to police sources.

Ecuador is set to enter a final round of the free trade talks on 23 March. Colombia and Peru already having signed similar deals with the US.

Mr Palacio took office after his predecessor, Lucio Gutierrez, was forced out last year amid violent protests against his rule.

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See the protests in Ecuador

Ecuador press sees no easy answers
16 Mar 06 |  Americas
Q&A: Ecuador crisis
16 Mar 06 |  Americas
Ecuador president calls for calm
16 Mar 06 |  Americas
'No end' to Ecuador trade protest
15 Mar 06 |  Americas
Ecuador emergency over oil strike
08 Mar 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Ecuador
04 Jan 06 |  Country profiles

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