QUITO -- Hundreds of peasants in Ecuador's southern Andean region blocked roads on Monday to protest lawmakers' expected approval of a new mining law that opponents claim doesn't do enough to protect the environment and rural communities.
The militants piled sticks, rocks and piles of burning tires on the three main routes into Cuenca, the biggest city in the southern highlands.
Four protesters were arrested, three police officers injured and an ambulance set on fire in Molleturo, near Cuenca, reporters said.
The president of the Union of Water Systems in Azuay province, Carlos Perez, told journalists that the roadblocks will continue until Ecuador's Congress either shelves the proposed legislation or sends a commission to the region to see the environmental harm done by existing mining projects.
The 120 police deployed to Cuenca were unable to clear the roads.
Separately, scores of independent miners arrived in Quito to demand that the congressional committee now reviewing the bill amend the text to include provisions legitimizing small mining cooperatives.
President Rafael Correa's leftist government says the peasants' objections to the proposed law are unwarranted, as the measure includes strict environmental safeguards.
The administration criticizes the demonstrators as "childish," asserting that mining, if properly regulated, can be part of lifting Ecuadorians out of poverty.
Though the Andean nation produces nearly 600,000 barrels of oil per day, roughly 70 percent of the population remains poor.