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Last Updated: Friday, 17 March 2006, 16:50 GMT
Ecuador protesters end blockades
Indigenous protester in Quito
Major cities have seen large demonstrations all week long
Protests by Ecuador's indigenous people against a proposed free trade deal with the US have abated, easing the pressure on the country's president.

But protest leaders insist they will call bigger nationwide blockades if the government signs the trade deal.

Angry indigenous groups blocked roads and burned tyres during four days of protests against the plans.

President Alfredo Palacio said his government would seek the best terms possible in negotiations with the US.

Hundreds of protesters returned to villages in the Andean highlands late on Thursday, ending blockades of major roads.

The government has urged protest leaders to reconsider proposals to make Ecuador's political system more inclusive of indigenous groups.

'Taking a break'

The government welcomed the end of the recent wave of protests, which it said heralded the return of normality to Ecuador.


However, protest leaders remained unconvinced by government efforts to ease the crisis.

"By no means are the demonstrations over. This is part of the internal strategy of the indigenous movement," Humberto Cholango told Reuters news agency.

In Cotopoxi province, local leader Jorge Herrera echoed that view.

"We are just going home to take a break and come back in force next week," he told Reuters.

"We are still very much against the free trade negotiations."

Indigenous fears

A final round of talks about the free trade deal are due to begin in Washington on 23 March, with a deal expected to be concluded in early April.

Ecuador's neighbours Colombia and Peru have already signed deals with the US.

Indigenous groups oppose any deal because they fear that cheap imports from the US would devastate Ecuador's economy

Mr Palacio has said Ecuador needs to come to an agreement with the outside world, but has vowed not to sign a deal that is not in the national interests of the whole country.

Ecuadoreans are due to vote for a new government in October.


SEE ALSO:
Ecuador protests 'will continue'
16 Mar 06 |  Americas
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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