Indigenous Ecuadorans used burning tires, tree trunks and stones Thursday to block access to the capital, Quito, on the fourth day of protests against high fuel prices and living costs.
Indigenous people, who make up over a million of Ecuador's 17.7 million inhabitants, embarked on an open-ended anti-government protest Monday that has since been joined by students and other discontented groups.
"We came to claim our rights because we are paid low prices for the products we produce," Nelson Jami, a farmer from the southern Cotopaxi province, told AFP at a blockade south of Quito.
Protests and roadblocks were registered Thursday in 15 of Ecuador's 24 provinces, authorities said, with hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Quito alone.
Firefighters said a truck carrying demonstrators overturned in Quito Thursday, injuring 12 people.
Oil producer Ecuador has been hit by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
Fuel prices have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from $1 to $1.90 per gallon (3.8 liters) and rising from $1.75 to $2.55 for petrol.
The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie), which called the protests, wants the price reduced to $1.50 for diesel and $2.10 for petrol.
Conaie is credited with helping topple three Ecuadoran presidents between 1997 and 2005.
- 'Sabotage' -
President Guillermo Lasso said Wednesday the government's door was open to dialogue, "but we will not give in to violent groups that seek to impose their rules."
Conaie leader Leonidas Iza, for his part, said the government was not making any concessions required for negotiations to begin.
Iza was arrested Tuesday on the second day of the mass protest on suspicion of "sabotage," according to the government, prompting furious supporters to descend on the prosecutor's office to demand he be freed.
He was released the following day on a judge's orders pending trial on charges of "paralyzing public transport services."
Iza risks up to three years in prison.
Conaie has reported 14 people injured since the protests began Monday, while police reported 29 arrests, eight agents injured and 11 others briefly held by demonstrators.
Ecuador's Production Minister Julio Prado said losses as a result of the protests amounted to some $20 million by Thursday.
In 2019, Conaie-led protests resulted in 11 deaths and forced then-president Lenin Moreno to abandon plans to eliminate fuel subsidies.