Protests in Ecuador kill one, injure 49

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Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ecuadorean police clashed with Amazon Indians protesting new laws they fear will increase oil drilling, leaving one person dead and at least 49 others injured on Thursday.

Authorities said the violence occurred Wednesday in Morona Santiago province, a major oil producing region. The clash came after three days of demonstrations in which indigenous groups had blocked roads in the jungle region to protest laws they say would encourage more oil drilling. The officials say one protester was killed and 40 police and nine protesters were injured.

"We can confirm that there are 29 policemen injured and one civilian is presumed dead," said government minister Gustavo Jalkh. He denied that the police opened fire on the protesters, although he said security officials had used "progressive force" to clear a highway blockade. The Ecuadorian Indians had blocked highways across the country since Monday to demonstrate against the laws.

At a news conference late Wednesday, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa blamed the protesters for the clash. "Tremendously violent groups armed with shotguns and rifles waited for police and met them with gunshots", the president said, repeating his call for dialogue with the indigenous people to address their concerns.

For years, indigenous communities in Ecuador have accused oil companies of damaging the environment and the health of community members while operating petroleum facilities. Several such conflicts between the indigenous communities and government have occurred in several Andean countries in the recent past, such as in Peru, where a government crackdown at a road blockade in the Amazons killed ten Indians and 23 police officers in June.