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Protests against president shut down Ecuador

Various groups in Ecuador, each with their own grievances, shut down streets all over the country on August 13 in protests against proposed constitutional amendments that would allow President Rafael Correa to seek a fourth term.

Indigenous groups led the way with protests and blockades all over the country, as well as a huge march in the capital, Quito, organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or CONAIE, the country’s largest indigenous organization. Indigenous leaders called for an “uprising” against the government and oppose oil exploitation and mining occurring on indigenous lands. The march began on August 2 in the province of Zamora Chinchipe, in the country’s southeast, and ended on August 13 as about 10,000 indigenous protesters marched into Quito and joined a general strike called by the Workers United Front, one of Ecuador’s main trade union organizations. The trade unions are opposed to new labor regulations and many proposed constitutional amendments.

“We voted for him, but he sold us illusions, dreams and now we have woken up from a nightmare,” Carlos Pérez, president of the Confederation of Kichwa People, told Al Jazeera. “For more than eight years we have waited but now we say enough, Correa changes or has to resign.”

The left-leaning Correa government has also been the target of right-wing protesters since the beginning of June. They oppose new taxes on inheritance and capital gains proposed by Correa.

All these groups are also opposed to a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow Correa to run for re-election indefinitely. If passed, Correa would be running for his fourth term in 2017. The issue has connected different groups that normally would have little to do with each other. A poll by CEDATOS last month putting Correa’s approval rating at 45 percent, his lowest rating since he took office.

Correa insists that the general strike will be a “massive failure” and that the protests are part of a right-wing attempt at a “soft coup.”

“We are facing a national and international right-wing revival, on top of the supposedly extreme left-wing,” he told La Republica. He went on to accuse the protests of being infiltrated by “foreign intelligence agencies.”

Indigenous groups denied any ties to the right wing and insisted that they are “politically independent” from the right-wing protests.

Police and military forces cracked down hard on the protests in Quito and throughout the country. Tear gas was fired at protesters in multiple cities, and fights between police and protesters broke out in Quito, where 47 were arrested.

Blockades at major roadways by indigenous protesters occurred in six of the country’s 24 provinces, including one at the Pan-American Highway, which connects several South American countries, in Cotopaxi. Police cracked down on those as well, spraying tear gas and arresting dozens. The violence was quickly condemned by CONAIE.

“Those who generate violence are infiltrators,” the indigenous group tweeted. “This march is peaceful. We reject the violence.”

Nonetheless, by the end of the day, protest leaders demanded the release of everyone arrested during the protests and stated that the demonstrations would continue. The next day, on August 14, roadblocks continued to be set up throughout the country in solidarity with the protests without any indication that they will stop anytime soon.

“If we don’t get answers we’re prepared to continue the protest for two days, or 15 days,” Pérez told AP. “Whatever it takes to open the deaf ears of President Correa.”