Defence Minister Luis Lara says democracy "faces a grave threat" as hundreds of Ecuadorans take part in ninth day of Indigenous-led fuel price protests, while a protester dies in police action, according to a rights group.

Called by Conaie, demonstrations since June 13 have seen roads barricaded nationwide at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy.
Called by Conaie, demonstrations since June 13 have seen roads barricaded nationwide at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars to the economy. (AFP)

Police have used tear gas  to disperse hundreds of Ecuadorans taking part in the ninth day of Indigenous-led fuel price protests that military described as a "grave threat" while a protester reportedly died in a "confrontation" with law enforcement.

Some 500 protesters among thousands who arrived in Quito from around the country in recent days were teargassed on Tuesday as they blockaded a street in the capital with burning tree branches.

They quickly regrouped to march with watery eyes on the CCE culture centre – traditionally used by Indigenous people to launch protests but requisitioned by police over the weekend to use as a base.

"There was a confrontation and this person was hit in the face, apparently with a tear gas bomb," lawyer Lina Maria Espinosa of the Alliance for Human Rights organisation said. 

Overnight, a young man died after falling into a ravine during the protests, prompting the prosecutor's office to open an investigation into the possible homicide.

'Grave threat'

Earlier on Tuesday, Defence Minister Luis Lara said Ecuador's democracy "faces a grave threat from ... people who are preventing the free movement of the majority of Ecuadorans" with widespread road blockades.

Flanked by the heads of the army, navy and air force, Lara warned the armed forces "will not allow attempts to break the constitutional order or any action against democracy and the laws of the republic."

Dozens of people, police and civilians, have been injured since the start of protests on June 13.

READ MORE: Indigenous protests over fuel prices in Ecuador enter eighth day

Conaie vows to maintain protests

The powerful Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (Conaie) – credited with helping topple three presidents between 1997 and 2005 – called the demonstrations as Ecuadorans increasingly struggle to make ends meet.

Indigenous people comprise more than a million of Ecuador's 17.7 million inhabitants and wield much political clout, but are disproportionately affected by rising inflation, unemployment and poverty exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Conaie has vowed to maintain the protests until its demands are met.

Thousands of protesters, many of whom had travelled to Quito on foot and on the backs of trucks, took to the streets afresh on Tuesday, some wielding sticks, fireworks and makeshift shields made of road signs.

"We are already tired of this government," said Mazabanda, a university student, of ex-banker President Guillermo Lasso's one-year-old term.

Tito Zamora, a small-scale farmer, added that input costs have risen sharply, "but not the price we get for our products."

READ MORE: Indigenous protesters enter Ecuador capital Quito

Worsening economy

Fuel prices have risen sharply since 2020, almost doubling for diesel from $1 to $1.90 per gallon and rising from $1.75 to $2.55 for gasoline.

Conaie is demanding a price cut to $1.50 a gallon for diesel and $2.10 for gasoline.

It also wants jobs and food price controls.

The movement has since been joined by students, workers and other Ecuadorans feeling the economic pinch.

READ MORE: Ecuador declares force majeure for oil, state of exception over protests

Source: AFP