QUITO -- Indian groups in Ecuador started blocking highways before dawn Tuesday in protest against the new mining law, while Interior Minister Fernando Bustamante asked that the demonstrations be carried out peacefully.
The Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie, and some environmental groups called for nationwide protests against the new law, which they believe will harm the environment and favor multinational mining companies.
According to media accounts, indigenous groups began blocking highways at sunrise, above all in the country's Andean region, although government officials said that these demonstrations were not really significant.
North of Quito some 1,000 Indians stalled traffic before dawn on the Pan American Highway with tree trunks and stones, witnesses said.
Those blockades and similar actions have not resulted in any serious clashes with police, authorities said.
Miguel Torres, an Indian leader in the northern province of Imbabura where the police have kept the road to the capital from being cut off, said on Radio Quito that "the blockades will be progressive."
Another Indian leader said on the Teleamazonas network that police stopped demonstrators from entering the capital for a planned demonstration and march to Congress.
"Groups that want to protest against the mining law or anything else can do so, they have the right, they have freedom of expression and can give their points of view, but we are going to require that they do so with respect for law and order," the interior minister said in an interview on Sonorama radio.
"If they block highways or take any other action that keeps people from carrying on with their normal lives, we'll have to intervene and do what the law requires in such cases," Bustamante said.
After the statement President Rafael Correa made Monday that there are groups out to destabilize the government, the minister said that "some leaders" of these groups may have such an intention, but he doesn't believe "that together the demonstrators have that idea."
Correa, a left-leaning, U.S.-trained economist, says the new mining law includes environmental safeguards and accuses the measure's opponents of engaging in "childish leftism and environmentalism." EFE