By Sinikka Tarvainen, (dpa news)
HAVANA TIMES – Ten police officers and nearly 30 journalists being held by indigenous protesters in Ecuador have been released, according to media reports Thursday.
The 10 officers were released near the National Assembly (parliament) in the presence of ombudsman Freddy Carrion and UN representatives, newspapers El Telegrafo and El Comercio reported.
The uniformed men were in good condition, El Comercio reported.
Indigenous leader Jaime Vargas said they had been held because they had “infringed upon the space we were occupying.”
The UN delegation to Ecuador on Twitter thanked the The indigenous people’s organization CONAIE for its “gesture of good will.”
The protesters held the police officers and more than two dozen journalists at the premises of a cultural organization in Quito.
The Ecuadorian government had earlier called on the protesters to release them.
The protesters’ demands included the restoration of 40-year-old fuel subsidies that the government lifted last week.
The incident followed nationwide protests against austerity measures during which five people have been killed, according to a figure given by the ombudsman’s office.
CONAIE said there had been deaths during mass protests on Wednesday, when nearly 20,000 people marched in Quito, without giving details.
“Police are not repressive, the violence has to end,” one of the police officers held by the protesters, Christian Rueda, told Colombian broadcaster Caracol.
CONAIE denied that the officers had been kidnapped and pledged to guarantee their rights.
The protest wave has included road blocks; occupation of public buildings, water treatment and petrol plants; clashes and looting.
Nearly 800 people have been arrested and hundreds injured.
More indigenous people were meanwhile marching towards Quito from the south and east of the country, according to El Telegrafo.
President Lenin Moreno said late Wednesday that the government was negotiating with the protesters and had “already reached the first good results.”
He said the government was offering indigenous people support in the areas of irrigation, loans, education, health care and fighting poverty.
But indigenous leader Jaime Vargas denied on Thursday that talks were taking place.
CONAIE is demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo and of Defence Minister Oswaldo Jarrin, whom it accuses of organizing repression.
Romo has promised that possible police violence will be investigated.
The elimination of the subsidies eight days ago more than doubled some fuel prices. The measure is part of a 4.2-billion-dollar package Ecuador has agreed with the International Monetary Fund, which also includes tax and labor reforms.