Ecuadorian indigenous protesters taking part in anti-austerity demonstrations held eight police officers and 27 journalists hostage, a top official said on Thursday.
"Right now there are Ecuadorian citizens being held hostage at the House of Ecuadorian Culture" in north-central Quito, the president's chief of staff Jose Agusto Briones said on national television.
Indigenous groups were gathered in the building's auditorium amid an indefinite nationwide strike against austerity measures imposed by the government earlier this month.
Agusto condemned the act and called for peaceful dialogue, adding that "the release of the police officers and the journalists is a basic prerequisite."
Jaime Vargas, president of Ecuador's Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie), said the officers would be let go safe and sound after taking part in a ceremony paying tribute to an indigenous leader killed during protests Wednesday, according to state news website El Telegrafo.
On Oct. 1, the government announced the elimination of fuel subsidies as part of a package of austerity measures designed to reduce the public deficit and meet the terms of a 4.2-billion-U.S.-dollar loan agreement the government has signed with the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
Gasoline and diesel prices immediately shot up, leading transport workers and others to launch an indefinite nationwide strike, and sparking sometimes violent protests. Public transit fares have also gone up.
The Conaie issued a press release late Thursday vowing to continue protests "until the IMF gets out of Ecuador."
The indigenous association also demanded the ouster of the ministers of defense and the interior, and the repeal of the presidential decree scrapping fuel subsidies.
"The business class ... wants to secure the loans from the International Monetary Fund so that the working class, the indigenous and the underprivileged will pay for their debts and their (economic) crisis," said the Conaie.
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