Protests in Ecuador over Correa`s looming `dictatorship`

Demonstrators took to the streets in Ecuador on Thursday to protest President Rafael Correa`s moves to seek a fourth term, but the leftist leader declared that plans for a paralyzing general strike had failed.

AFP| Last Updated: Aug 14, 2015, 13:14 PM IST

Quito: Demonstrators took to the streets in Ecuador on Thursday to protest President Rafael Correa`s moves to seek a fourth term, but the leftist leader declared that plans for a paralyzing general strike had failed.

In office since 2007, Correa has drawn increasing criticism over a constitutional reform package that would allow him to stand for reelection when his current term ends in 2017.

Discontent has been amplified by an economic slowdown gripping the South American oil producer, hit hard by sliding crude prices.

Indigenous protesters, who have been particularly vocal critics of Correa, blocked roads in six of Ecuador`s 24 provinces, including the Pan-American Highway to Peru, officials said.

"We have declared an uprising. For us, Correa has fallen from grace. He doesn`t represent us anymore," said protest leader Carlos Perez, one of dozens of indigenous Ecuadorans who made an 800-kilometer (500-mile) trek to Quito for the demonstrations.

"We don`t want indefinite reelection because we`re going to end up in a dictatorship," he told journalists.

But -- in a setback for protesters -- transport, education and health services were all operating normally in the country`s largest cities despite a call for a general strike.

In a fiery speech to supporters Correa called the protests a failure.

"Today everyone possible came together, and they have not managed to achieve anything, they have failed and continue to fail because they lack popular support, legality and legitimacy," Correa said, warning that he will not be subject to "blackmail."

"Situation normal in all major cities," Correa wrote on Twitter.

A heavy police presence was on the streets in key cities, including 5,000 officers in Quito.

Pro-government demonstrators were gathered outside the presidential offices in the capital to block what Correa has warned could turn into a coup attempt.

"We don`t want coup plotters to keep tearing things down," said pro-government rural leader Carlos Litardo.

At the end of the day Thursday, police clashed with anti-government demonstrators outside the presidential offices in Quito, firing tear gas and making arrests.

Correa, who has faced repeated protests since June 8, recently admitted they were a "tough test" for his administration.

The 52-year-old leader has been Ecuador`s most popular president in decades, building hospitals, schools and roads and expanding social spending.

But he has run into stiff opposition over a series of constitutional amendments currently before Congress -- where he enjoys a large majority -- that would allow him to seek a fourth term at elections in 2017.