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Ecuador Indians Seek Gov’t Talks

January 26, 2000

QUITO, Ecuador (AP) _ The leader of the Indian movement whose revolt precipitated President Jamil Mahuad’s overthrow said Wednesday he wants direct talks with the new government.

Antonio Vargas said Indian leaders are prepared to discuss privatizing state companies, repaying Ecuador’s $13 billion debt and abandoning the national currency, the sucre, for the U.S. dollar.

``We want direct dialogue about profound changes,″ said Vargas, head of the Confederation of Indigenous Nations of Ecuador.

The Indians will suspend their uprising for at least six months but will rise up again if the new government does not halt endemic corruption and poverty, he said.

Angry at ousted president Jamil Mahuad’s inability to stop Ecuador’s economic slide, Vargas led hundreds of Indian protesters to occupy the empty Congress building last week with a cadre of young army officers.

Their proclamation of a ``Parliament of the People″ led by a three-man governing junta prompted the military high command to force Mahuad from power to avoid ``a social explosion.″

Gen. Carlos Mendoza, the country’s military chief, took a seat in the junta with Vargas and a former Supreme Court judge. But he later dissolved it and resigned as military commander, buckling under pressure from Washington and more than 20 regional commanders who rejected the overthrow of civilian rule.

Power was ceded to Vice President Gustavo Noboa, who on Wednesday received the presidential sash in a ceremony in Congress.

Vargas accused the military high command of taking advantage of the Indians in an attempt to seize power.

His organization also distributed to newspapers a copy of a document proclaiming total military rule that the high command allegedly prepared the night of the coup but never issued.

The Indian leader said he does not intend to run from an arrest order for his part in the coup and only asked authorities not to treat him as a common criminal.

``I am here showing my face,″ said Vargas. ``If for fighting against corruption, against misery and hunger they take me to prison, I will go.″

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