Violence has persisted in the country's capital since last week when President Lenín Moreno's decision to end subsidies led to a sharp increase in fuel prices.

An armored vehicle drives towards a crowd of anti-government demonstrators protesting against President Lenin Moreno and his economic policies, in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, October 8, 2019.
An armored vehicle drives towards a crowd of anti-government demonstrators protesting against President Lenin Moreno and his economic policies, in Quito, Ecuador, Tuesday, October 8, 2019. (AP)

Thousands of indigenous people, some carrying long sticks, converged on Ecuador's capital Tuesday as anti-government protests and clashes led the president to move his besieged administration out of Quito.

The South American country of 17 million people appeared to be at a dangerous impasse, paralyzed by a lack of public transport and blockaded roads that were taking a toll on an already vulnerable economy.

On Tuesday, protesters broke through police barriers and some entered the empty congress building in Quito. Police firing tear gas forced them to retreat.

Indigenous protesters occupied two water treatment plants in the city of Ambato, south of the capital, raising concerns about supply to residents, according to municipal authorities.

In another part of Ecuador, police abandoned an armoured vehicle to protesters who set it on fire. In multiple areas, rioters smashed car windows, broke into shops and confronted security forces.

Some video footage has shown police beating protesters on the ground. Opponents have accused Moreno's government of human rights abuses in its attempts to quell disturbances.

Moreno orders curfew

Ecuadorean President Lenin Moreno on Tuesday ordered that authorities restrict movement in areas close to government buildings and strategic installations, according to a written decree, after six days of anti-austerity protests.

The order prevents public access to these areas between 8 pm and 5 am while a national state of emergency remains, the decree said. 

Government open to foreign mediation
Ecuador's government said on Tuesday it would be open to mediation via the United Nations or the Catholic Church, after almost a week of anti-austerity protests that have rocked the nation and brought hundreds of arrests.

Thousands of indigenous demonstrators were converged on the highland capital, Quito, and were planning to march on the heavily guarded presidential palace on Tuesday.

"The only response is dialogue and firmness at the same time," presidency secretary Juan Roldan told local radio, saying authorities were open to help from the United Nations, the Catholic Church or university rectors.

The number of arrests had risen to 570, he said.

Challenge to Moreno's rule

Facing the biggest challenge to his two-and-a-half-year rule, President Lenin Moreno has declared a state of emergency and moved government operations to the coastal city of Guayaquil, where there has been less trouble.

Protests erupted last Thursday when the government cut fuel subsidies as part of a package of economic reforms in keeping with a $4.2 billion International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan.

Indigenous groups and others have been barricading roads with burning tires, rocks and branches, while police have deployed armored vehicles and tear gas in response.

Among those detained was a Congress member who supports Moreno's predecessor Rafael Correa, said, Roldan.

Moreno has accused the leftist Correa, his one-time mentor and boss when he was vice president, of seeking a coup with the help of Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro.

"They want to turn Ecuador into Venezuela," Roldan said.

'They are such liars'

Moreno had enthusiastically backed Correa during his decade-long rule but broke with him after winning the 2017 election to succeed him, and moved economic policies to the right.

Speaking in Belgium, where he lives in self-exile, Correa told Reuters the accusation against him was nonsense.

"They are such liars ... They say I am so powerful that with an iPhone from Brussels I could lead the protests," he said, holding up his mobile telephone.

"People couldn't take it anymore, that's the reality," he said, referring to the belt-tightening economic measures.

Maduro has yet to respond to the accusation of Venezuelan involvement in Ecuador.

With protesters swarming around Quito, various government buildings were attacked overnight, authorities said.

Source: Reuters