Ecuador government, protesters agree deal to end deadly unrest

Indigenous protesters celebrate Ecuador government’s cancellation of an austerity package that triggered violent protests. (AP)
Updated 14 October 2019

Ecuador government, protesters agree deal to end deadly unrest

  • ‘With this agreement, the mobilizations ... across Ecuador are terminated and we commit ourselves to restoring peace in the country’

QUITO: Ecuador’s president and indigenous leaders reached an agreement Sunday to end nearly two weeks of violent protests against austerity measures put in place to obtain a multi-billion-dollar loan from the IMF.
President Lenin Moreno met with Jaime Vargas, the head of the indigenous umbrella grouping CONAIE, for four hours of talks in the capital Quito broadcast live on state television.
“With this agreement, the mobilizations ... across Ecuador are terminated and we commit ourselves to restoring peace in the country,” said a joint statement, adding the government had withdrawn an order that removed fuel subsidies.
Rocketing prices after Moreno cut the subsidies to obtain a $4.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund sparked 12 days of demonstrations that left seven people dead.
The statement was read by an official from the United Nations, which mediated the talks along with the Catholic Church.
“The measures applied in all our territories are lifted,” confirmed Vargas, wearing face paint and a head wreath of feathers.
Moreno had declared a curfew and placed Quito under military control to quell the unrest.
On Sunday, violent clashes continued before the talks began as police fought to disperse protesters who tried to put up a barricade of debris from Saturday’s unrest.
“Native brothers, I have always treated you with respect and affection,” Moreno said as the talks opened. “It was never my intention to affect the poorest sectors.”
Protesters had converged on Quito from around the country. Authorities said 1,349 people had been injured and 1,152 detained in the demonstrations.
The violence forced Moreno to relocate his government to Ecuador’s second city, Guayaquil, and hit the oil industry hard with the energy ministry suspending more than two-thirds of its distribution of crude.
Protesters seized three oil facilities in the Amazon.
CONAIE had previously rejected an offer of dialogue but reversed course Saturday.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres earlier called on all groups “to commit to inclusive and meaningful talks, and to work in good faith toward a peaceful solution.”
Ecuador’s indigenous groups make up a quarter of the country’s 17.3 million people. Thousands from disadvantaged communities from across the Amazon and the Andes have traveled to Quito to spearhead demands the subsidies be reinstated.
Demonstrators on Saturday ransacked and set fire to the building housing the comptroller general’s office, which was shrouded in thick smoke after being attacked with fire bombs.
The prosecutor’s office said 34 people were arrested.
Protesters on Saturday also targeted a television station and a newspaper.
The Teleamazonas TV channel interrupted its regular broadcast to air images of broken windows, a burned vehicle and heavy police presence on the scene.
The station evacuated 25 employees, none of them hurt.
Nearby, protesters built barricades in front of the National Assembly building as police fired tear gas at them.
“We have nothing to do with the events at the comptroller’s office and Teleamazonas,” said CONAIE.
El Comercio newspaper reported on Twitter that its offices were attacked by a “group of unknowns.”
Protesters did not immediately heed the curfew that went into effect on Saturday, with security forces struggling to impose order in some parts of the city.
“Where are the mothers and fathers of the police? Why do they let them kill us?” cried Nancy Quinyupani, an indigenous woman.
The restrictions in Quito, a city of 2.7 million, came on top of a state of emergency Moreno had declared on October 3, deploying some 75,000 military and police and imposing a nighttime curfew in the vicinity of government buildings.
Moreno is struggling with an economic crisis that he blames on waste and corruption by Correa’s administration.


Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

Updated 21 November 2019

Top diplomat implicates Trump in explosive impeachment testimony

  • Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky
  • Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much

WASHINGTON: A senior US diplomat directly implicated President Donald Trump Wednesday in a scheme to force Ukraine to probe a political rival, in bombshell testimony to a televised impeachment hearing.
Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, told lawmakers he followed the president’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.
Sondland said Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani led the effort at Trump’s direction to pressure Ukraine President Volodymr Zelensky for the investigation and that top officials in the White House and State Department knew about it.
The unexpectedly damning testimony drew a sharp backlash from Trump who tweeted: “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!.”
Trump said he barely knew Sondland and had not spoken to him much, despite the senior diplomat having donated $1 million to his inauguration and testifying that he had spoken to the president some 20 times while ambassador.
Democrats said Sondland’s seven hours of testimony before the House Intelligence Committee had bolstered their case for Trump’s impeachment for what they have labeled “extortion.”
“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said committee chairman Adam Schiff.
“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors.”
A succession of Democrats hoping to win the nomination to take on Trump in next year’s election also said the testimony had strengthened the case for impeachment as the issue dominated the opening exchanges in their latest televised primary debate.
Sondland said Trump directed him and two other senior diplomats to work with Giuliani.
From early in the year, Giuliani mounted a pressure campaign on Zelensky’s government to investigate Biden over his son Hunter’s ties to a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma, and to probe a conspiracy theory espoused by Trump that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016. Biden is one of the favorites to challenge Trump in next year’s presidential election.
“Mr. Giuliani demanded that Ukraine make a public statement announcing the investigations of the 2016 election/DNC server and Burisma,” Sondland told the panel.
“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky.”
Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials — including Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.
“We followed the president’s orders,” he said.
Like Trump a multimillionaire developer with a chain of high-end hotels, Sondland, who wore a $55,000 Breguet white gold watch to the hearing, fended off pressure from both Democrats and Republicans.
He had not implicated the president in earlier private testimony, when he answered scores of questions by saying he could “not remember.”
But subsequent testimony by other witnesses which had further implicated him in the Ukraine pressure scheme had jolted his memory, he said on Wednesday.
While he confirmed the linkage between the investigations and a White House meeting between Zelensky and Trump, he would not attest to allegations that Trump froze $391 million in aid as well to Ukraine to add pressure on Ukraine.
“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he said, contradicting testimony from two other diplomats.
In separate testimony, a Pentagon official appeared to undermine a key Republican defense in the impeachment battle, that Kiev did not even know until late August or even September about the July 18 aid freeze, rendering moot Democrats’ allegations that Trump had extorted Ukraine.
Laura Cooper, the Pentagon official in charge of Ukraine affairs, said Kiev voiced concern over a holdup in aid on July 25.
That was the same day that Trump told Zelensky in a phone call that he wanted a favor, asking for investigations into Biden specifically and the 2016 conspiracy theory.
“The Ukrainian embassy staff asked, ‘What is going on with Ukrainian security assistance?” she told the committee.
At the White House, Trump denied making the demand of Zelensky, citing Sondland’s own recall of their September 9 phone call on the Ukraine issue.
Reading from large-print notes, he said that he told Sonderland: “I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing.”
“If this were a prizefight, they’d stop it!” he said of the inquiry.
Speaking at the Democrats’ debate, Biden dodged a question on the role of his son but said the testimony had shown that “Donald Trump doesn’t want me to be the nominee.”
And Bernie Sanders, another of the frontrunners for the nomination, said Trump had been shown to be “not only a pathological liar” but also “the most corrupt president in the modern history of America.”