Thousands Protest Trade in Ecuador
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QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ Thousands of demonstrators marched in Ecuador’s capital Thursday to protest free trade talks scheduled for Friday, setting off clashes at police barricades.
Police fired tear gas to disperse several groups that tried to get by 500 policemen blocking access to a hotel where some 900 business leaders from across the Americas held related meetings before the talks.
``No to the FTAA, no to imperialism,″ read signs carried by protesters, who included Indians in traditional clothing and university students.
Demonstrators have been descending on Quito from across Latin America all week ahead of Friday’s meeting between ministers and representatives from 34 nations to debate the so-called Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA.
The trade agreement would create a free trade zone in 2005 throughout the Americas, excluding Cuba. While supporters see it as a way out of poverty in the hemisphere, opponents say American companies will use market access to steamroll Latin American competition.
In response to growing demonstrations, Ecuadorean authorities have assigned more than 5,000 police agents to provide protection for the gathering and have dispatched elite police teams to boost security at the U.S. Embassy.
Business leaders from smaller economies in Latin America and the Caribbean said they want the United States to drop agricultural subsidies and import tariffs as part of the agreement. They want Friday’s negotiations and final agreements to include compensation that will strengthen their weaker economies.