The indigenous protesters were joined by students, activists and government opponents who criticized President Rafael Correa for signing off on plans for mining projects including open pit mines that are to extract copper and other minerals from the traditional lands of the Shuar Indians in southern Ecuador.
Thousands of Correa’s supporters gathered in parks and plazas for a counter-demonstration to show their support for the government’s policies, some of them in front of the president’s palace.
Correa’s supporters chanted: “The coup-plotters won’t pass! They’ll bump into the people!”
The leftist president addressed a crowd of supporters at a park, saying the government is willing to talk with indigenous leaders despite the disagreements.
“We’ve told them: They want to talk, perfect, but with the good-intentioned, good people. For that, they don’t need marches. We’re always open to dialogue,” Correa said. He called the protesters “counterrevolutionaries.”
“If they want to beat us, they should do it in elections,” Correa said in a radio interview.
The president said the government took measures to ensure security and the right of his opponents to protest peacefully. Hundreds of police officers stood watch at both demonstrations.
“But if there is an act of violence… clearly it will be from infiltrated opposition groups,” Correa said, adding that he thought the indigenous protesters had failed to rally much of a crowd.
Correa, whose spending on social programs has helped boost his approval ratings above 70 percent, has supported large-scale mining projects saying they represent a financial boon for the country.
The march was organized by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities, the country’s indigenous umbrella group.