Protesters in Loja attempted to kidnap a police officer, who managed to escape from his captors.
Protests by opponents of Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa once again turned violent Monday, with one clash leaving several police seriously injured and several officials reportedly kidnapped by protesters.
President Correa blasted the violence via social media, saying, “In the 21st century it is unacceptable to close highways as a form of ‘protest.’ It is illegal, illegitimate, and the largest show of arrogance that these groups claim to fight against, because through force they violate the rights of others and want to make the country cave (to their demands).”
Opposition groups, which have repeatedly refused calls by the government for dialogue, shut down highways in the provinces of Morona Santiago and Loja, preventing the movement of people and goods in these areas.
Some 600 members of the Ecuadorean police and the armed forces, who were sent to clear the illegal road blockade, were met with rocks, sticks and fire bombs on the part of the protesters. Thirty protesters connected to the Conaie opposition group were subsequently detained.
Jorge Herrera, president of the Conaie indigenous group, called the arrests “a violation of our rights.” Conaie has also accused pro-government infiltrators of being responsible for violence during protests in Quito last Thursday, despite video evidence of opposition indigenous leaders calling on protesters to “surround” the Presidential palace. Herrera, along with the governor of Zamora city, Salvador Quishpe, was recorded charging at police lines with steel barricades.
According to the governor of Loja, Johanna Ortiz Villavicencio, three state officials were kidnapped by protesters in retaliation for the arrests. Ortiz said they would not respond to “blackmail” and the detainees would not be released. She added that several police officers had been seriously injured.
That sentiment was shared by President Correa, who said “we must free ourselves from the blackmail of certain groups who want to keep the country as their hostage.”
Two officials were eventually released Monday but the police officer remained missing. Ortiz tweeted Tuesday morning that the police officer who had been kidnapped managed to escape from his captors.
In the province of Morona Santiago, protesters peacefully abandoned the illegal roadblock after a request by authorities.
President Correa said opposition groups are turning to violence due to the “failure” of the work stoppage called by opposition-aligned groups last week.
Despite the call, economic activity in the country largely went unaffected save for the temporary closure of a number of roads and highways by protesters.
The streets of the capital of Quito were witness to extremely violent protests that left over 80 police officers injured.
The Ecuadorean constitution and penal code expressly prohibit the closure of highways, a point repeatedly reiterated by President Correa.
The office of the state prosecutor announced that 75 people are facing charges as a result of the violent protests last week.