Ecuador protesters break into Congress

Demonstrators are dispersed away from the national assembly by riot police, in Quito on Tuesday following days of protests against the sharp rise in fuel prices sparked by authorities' decision to scrap subsidies. -AFP

QUITO - Ecuadoran protesters broke into the country's Congress building on Monday as demonstrations over a fuel hike introduced by President Lenin Moreno's government intensified.

Demonstrators, many of them indigenous men armed with sticks and whips, surged through a security cordon.

They rushed into the meeting room and occupied the podium, but were soon evicted by security forces.

Moreno subsequently ordered an overnight curfew to protect public buildings.

Clashes between security forces and protesters outside Congress erupted as thousands of demonstrators converge on the capital Quito to protest soaring fuel prices at a mass demonstration planned for Wednesday.

Demonstrators made a previous attempt to storm the building on Monday. Moreno, who declared a state of emergency over the nationwide protests last week, has moved government headquarters to the coastal city of Guayaquil.

Several days of protests against the fuel price hike have slashed the South American country's oil output by a third.

Oil production fell 31 percent after the seizure of three oil facilities in the Amazon, the energy ministry said Tuesday.

Production losses at the state-owned Petroamazonas "will reach 165,000 barrels per day," the ministry said in a statement. Ecuador, which exited the OPEC international oil cartel last week citing economic constraints, normally produces 531,000 barrels per day.

Moreno's declaration of a state of emergency failed to deter the advance of indigenous protesters who have repeatedly clashed with security forces on their journey to the capital from around the country.

The president on Tuesday tried to head off Wednesday's planned protest by offering to hold talks with "the indigenous brothers."

He added that income from the elimination of fuel subsidies would be spent "on the poorest."

The United Nations and the Catholic Church have offered to mediate in the crisis, Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said.

Moreno had accused his predecessor and ex-ally Rafael Correa along with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro of an "attempted coup d'etat."

He said they were using "indigenous groups, taking advantage of their mobilization to plunder and destroy."

Maduro hit back on Tuesday, saying that Moreno's accusations were absurd.

But Moreno's accusation drew support from seven Latin American countries, rejecting any effort by Maduro and his allies to "destabilize" Ecuador. -AFP