Anti-government protesters paraded captive police officers on a stage yesterday, defying Ecuadorian authorities who are seeking dialogue with opponents, particularly indigenous groups, after deadly unrest that was triggered by fuel price hikes.
Some of the officers were later forced to carry a coffin of an indigenous activist said to have been killed during the protests. The brazen acts occurred in the capital of Quito at a cultural centre where indigenous protesters set up a base.
Big jumps in fuel prices after the Government ended subsidies last week plunged Ecuador into upheaval, triggering protests, looting, vandalism, clashes with security forces, the blocking of highways and the suspension of parts of its vital oil industry.
Ecuador's cuts in fuel subsidies were among measures announced as part of a US$4.2 billion ($6.64b) funding plan with the International Monetary Fund, which says the funds will strengthen the economy and generate jobs.
Indigenous groups condemn the deal with the IMF, saying austerity measures will deepen economic inequality.
An indigenous leader and four other people have died in the violence, according to the public defender's office. The President's office said two people died.
At the cultural centre, one captive officer was forced to drape a national flag around his shoulders and don a hat of a style worn by some indigenous people. The lone female officer in the group was seen wiping away tears.
All were forced to remove their boots in front of hundreds of demonstrators, some holding white roses in tribute to people who have been killed in the unrest. The police officers appeared to be unharmed, and were checked by medics.
"With the blood of our brothers, we won't negotiate," indigenous leader Jaime Vargas declared in a speech to the crowd. He accused the Government, which has floated agricultural aid and other incentives for indigenous groups as a way to resolve the crisis, of deceiving and neglecting Ecuador's poor.
Jose Briones, secretary general of the President's office, said protesters must release all people they "kidnapped" before any dialogue with the Government can proceed.
He also said order was being restored nationwide and that more than 70 per cent of Ecuador's cities were peaceful.
Indigenous protesters are playing a key role in the opposition to the Government, as they have done in the past because of their traditional grievances as a minority.
The announcement by the public defender's office that one of those killed was an indigenous leader seemed certain to inflame tensions.