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Ecuador Clamps Down On Indian Protesters

By Associated Press / June 23, 1994



THE government of Ecuador issued a decree Tuesday granting it the power to use troops to clear the roads of Indians protesting a new agrarian law.

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President Sixto Duran Ballen declared a ``state of mobilization'' to respond to more than a week of protests. The decree is short of a state of emergency. Protesters have blocked rural roads in at least six provinces, keeping trucks with food and fuel from reaching the cities. Two Indians have been killed in violence associated with the protests.

The government had reached a tentative agreement with Indians Monday and promised to study revising the new Agrarian Development Law. But indigenous leaders refused to call off the protest, saying the government's proposal had to be analyzed by Indian assemblies before the strike could end.

The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, which represents most of the country's 3.5 million Indians, says the law would end traditional community ownership of land and turn over the management of water rights to the private sector. Mexico expels Ecuadoran priest

MEXICO expelled an Ecuadoran priest on suspicion of arming hundreds of peasants in the central part of the country, where a blockade by demonstrators has raised tensions that are already high over an Indian revolt in the south.

The Interior Ministry said Tuesday that Roman Catholic clergyman Marcos Gonzalo Hallo del Salto was ``the leader of an armed civil organization and ... helped hundreds of people arm themselves,'' in Puebla State.

Hundreds of peasants, some armed with machetes, rocks, and clubs, blocked a major highway in Puebla to protest the priest's deportation.

Church-state relations in Mexico are at their best in decades. President Carlos Salinas de Gortari restored ties with the Vatican in 1992 and oversaw reforms that ended many restrictions on the church.

The Interior Ministry statement did not give specifics of the accusations against the priest or cite a possible motive for arming peasant groups. Rural parts of Puebla have seen frequent clashes involving radical peasant groups seeking land or power.