Authorities in Ecuador on Friday accused a mob of attacking a military and police convoy, seriously injuring 17 soldiers and burning three trucks near the country’s capital, where Indigenous protesters blocking roads have brought the city to a near halt.
Army Gen. Edwin Adatty, commander of the Quito task force, said protesters shot rifles and fireworks and carried other weapons during Thursday's attack.
“This is not a social protest. It is an exaggerated, disproportionate social violence for political purposes,” he said. The convoy had been trying to free private vehicles and food-carrying trucks that had been blocked by protesters.
The demonstrations are part of a national strike that the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities began June 14 to demand that gasoline prices be cut by 45 cents a gallon to $2.10, price controls for agricultural products and a larger budget for education. Protests have been especially violent in six provinces in the north-central part of the South American country.
The confederation on Thursday said a demonstrator died of pellet wounds in the chest and abdomen while protesting near the National Assembly in Quito, where about 100 other people suffered a variety of injuries. Two other deaths were previously reported.
Police tweeted that officers were also injured by pellets.
Quito is experiencing food and fuel shortages because of roadblocks and other disruptions from the unrest. Production Minister Julio José Prado said that nearly 600 private vehicles and food-carrying trucks are trapped in Nanegalito, a community about 40 miles (65 kilometers) northwest of Quito.
In the capital, groups of protesters have roamed the city attacking vehicles and civilians and forcing the closure of businesses, some of which were looted. They have also punctured the tires of buses, forcing passengers to walk.
The organization Human Rights International said that that four of its staff members were physically attacked and robbed while “carrying out research and verification work on the protests” in Quito.
“We reject these actions, and we call for dialogue,” that organization tweeted.
The situation prompted several embassies, including those of Germany, Britain, Canada and the U.S., to issue a public statement expressing concerns about “the fundamental rights of all citizens,” and calling for the parties to negotiate and reach “concrete agreements.”
The U.S. Department of State issued an advisory Wednesday warning travelers about the widespread protests.