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Ecuador declares emergency, troops fire on protesters

By Staff
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QUITO, Ecuador, Feb 21 (Reuters) Ecuador declared a state of emergency on Tuesday after soldiers opened fire on protesters who invaded an Amazonian oil pumping station and shut down one of the country's main private pipelines.

The state of emergency prohibits protests and marches.

Leaders of the protest and a doctor at a local hospital said at least three people were wounded in the incident yesterday.

About 600 people were still occupying the Sardinia pumping station in the Amazon province of Napo, about 55 miles (90 kms) east of Quito.

A military spokesman declined to comment on the situation, but local television showed pictures of troops firing their rifles at dozens of rock-hurdling protesters.

Television stations also showed footage of wounded protesters lying in a local hospital who said they had been shot by soldiers.

''We want the government to talk to us because this situation is getting out of hand,'' Julio Perez, a spokesman for the protesters told Reuters. ''We did not order people to invade this pumping station.

''The OCP (pipeline) suspended its operations after protesters invaded the station of Sardina,'' confirmed a spokesman for the company that operates the pipeline, which is owned by several Ecuadorian and foreign companies.

Ecuador is Latin America's fifth-largest oil producer, with an output of about 530,000 barrels per day.

The pipeline has the capacity to transport 450,000 barrels per day, but at the time of the stoppage it carried 160,000 bpd from the Amazon region to a port in the Pacific coast.

Hundreds of protesters were also outside the Baeza oil pumping station, which is owned by Petroecuador, the state oil company, a police spokesman said.

The activists are demanding that the government channel more than 100 million dollars to their local communities to build roads, bridges and a new airport.

The police sent about 300 officers to the area to protect key oil infrastructure and more officers could be sent in if the violence escalates, the police spokesman said.

Protesters damaged another pumping station owned by Petroecuador on Monday, forcing it to shut down its main pipeline and suspend exports for several hours.

Negotiations between the government and protesters broke down yesterday after officials refused to meet the activists' demands until they end a general strike.

Interior Minister Alfredo Castillo, the chief negotiator, was meeting with Ecuador's President Alfredo Palacio to try to seek a way to end the protests, a government source said.

REUTERS SI SP1011

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