Police firing tear gas dispersed about 1,000 demonstrators who marched on the presidential palace today to demand President Jamil Mahuad's resignation, claiming he has mismanaged Ecuador's economy.
Similar protests were held in Ecuador's largest city, Guayaquil, as well as the southern city of Cuenca. Defying a countrywide state of emergency, students tried to block traffic by setting small fires in streets but were quickly driven away by police.
In Quito, the capital, heavily armed riot police, some in armored vehicles, formed a cordon around the presidential palace, and local radio reported a large number of soldiers and police on streets and highways throughout this nation of 12 million people.
"The decree for a state of emergency was signed [Wednesday] night to guarantee public order," said government spokesman Vladimiro Alvarez.
The decree empowered the government to use the armed forces to maintain order. Alvarez said the government was bracing for violence and had information about locations where molotov cocktails and bombs were assembled. He did not say if any arrests had been made or identify who had made the bombs.
The leftist-led Unified Workers Front, Ecuador's main labor organization with 600,000 members, announced plans on Monday to launch a series of protests against the government. There have been three national strikes since Mahuad took office in August 1998. But today's protests did not include a call for businesses to close, and they were operating normally in Quito.
Protest leaders said at least 10 people were hurt in today's clashes and more than 20 were detained.
Mahuad has faced increasing calls to step down from political rivals on both the left and right, as well as business leaders, as Ecuador suffers through its worst economic crisis since the Great Depression. Critics blame Mahuad for 60 percent inflation and the fact that the economy shrank 7 percent in 1999.
Mahuad has said he plans to finish his term, which runs until January 2003, and the armed forces have said they support him.