QUITO -- Four policemen were injured and a dozen Indian peasants were arrested Tuesday during road-blocking protests against a new mining law that critics say endangers the environment.
Ecuavisa television reported that four cops were injured when they were surprised by demonstrators in the Tabacundo sector, some 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Quito.
The president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, or Conaie, Marlon Santi, told Efe that about 10 demonstrators were arrested by police in protests that took place in the northern Andean regions of Cayumbe and Imbabura.
Media outlets said that the protest did not have the vigor or extent of earlier demonstrations staged by Conaie.
The Panamerican Highway, the main north-south route through the highlands, was blocked at several sites by protesters, causing backups of trucks and buses.
Thousands of police were deployed to unblock the roads and, although the premise was to negotiate the clearing of the roads, in some cases, the cops used force and fired tear gas at the protesters.
In Quito, there were not as many demonstrators as had been expected at the march, according to Conaie sources, because police impeded the entry into the city of five buses carrying Indians from other provinces.
Santi said that Conaie leaders had not been able to speak with lawmakers or government officials, to whom they had intended to present their proposals.
The indigenous leader said that in the coming hours Conaie will make an evaluation of the situation and announce its decisions regarding the possible prolongation of the protest.
"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," Interior Minister Fernando Bustamante 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," he said.
Regarding President Rafael Correa's earlier comments about groups out to destabilize his 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