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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 March 2006, 16:25 GMT
Ecuador forces remove roadblocks
Protesters in Ecuador
Mass protests have been largely confined to the provinces
Ecuadorean security forces have started removing roadblocks placed by indigenous groups protesting against free trade talks with the US.

The government sent in army units to restore order after declaring a state of emergency in five central provinces.

Demonstrators have been blocking roads since last week. They fear the deal being negotiated in Washington this week will damage their way of life.

The protests have cost the country millions of dollars in lost trade.

The state of emergency was declared on Tuesday by President Alfredo Palacio in the highland provinces of Cotopaxi, Canar, Chimborazo and Imbabura, as well as parts of Pichincha, where the capital Quito is located. It bans public meetings and imposes a curfew.

"The president took this decision after exhausting all other options for dialogue," said Interior Minister Felipe Vega.

Shortages

A military spokesman told the Spanish news agency Efe that several main roads had been cleared, but some routes in the Imbabura province were still blocked by demonstrators.

Map

Mr Vega called on the protesters to collect signatures for a referendum on the free trade issue rather than block roads.

But Gilberto Talahua, one of the leaders of the main indigenous group, Conaie, said the protests would continue.

The roadblocks have caused increasing food and fuel shortages in some of Ecuador's central provinces.

A final round of talks about the free trade agreement is scheduled 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.


SEE ALSO:
Ecuador protesters end blockades
17 Mar 06 |  Americas
Q&A: Ecuador crisis
16 Mar 06 |  Americas
Country profile: Ecuador
04 Jan 06 |  Country profiles


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