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Ecuador Lifts State of Emergency

July 19, 1999

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Making good on his promise, Ecuador’s president on Monday lifted a nationwide state of emergency imposed because of a paralyzing 12-day transportation strike.

However, opposition leaders announced plans for another protest Tuesday, saying steps must be taken to revive the nation’s economy.

President Jamil Mahuad gave in to strikers’ demands Friday, rescinding a 13 percent gasoline price increase and agreeing to freeze gasoline prices until June 2000. On Saturday, an agreement was reached with protesting Indian groups opposed to a series of economic austerity measures.

Mahuad also promised to gradually reopen bank accounts frozen since March so long as Congress acts to bridge the resulting budget shortfall. The government had partially frozen accounts to stave off a run on the banks.

The two-week state of emergency empowered soldiers and police to break up protests and detain strikers. More than 500 people were arrested and dozens injured during the sometimes-violent protests in Ecuador’s major cities.

Opposition leaders, including former presidential candidate Jaime Nebot and former President Leon Febres Cordero, announced plans for a protest march Tuesday in the port city of Guayaquil, demanding that Mahuad act to end Ecuador’s worst economic crisis in decades.

Mahuad sharply criticized his opponents, saying they threatened to aggravate an explosive situation and undermine this South American nation’s democracy.

In a veiled reference to Nebot and Febres Cordero, now mayor of Guayaquil, Mahuad called the pair ``conspirators″ for repeatedly demanding his resignation.

March organizers said Tuesday’s protest was intended to make sure that the government would not back away from its economic austerity program.

``There’s no reason to fear this march, Mr. President. But you will have something to fear if you do not heed the voice of the people because the people are fed up and want you to respond,″ Nebot said.

Mahuad is handling Ecuador’s worst economic crisis in 70 years, with 55 percent inflation, a $1.2 billion budget deficit and 16 percent unemployment.

He is trying to enact tough economic reforms to stave off national bankruptcy but has met stiff opposition from Ecuador’s powerful leftist unions.

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