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Ecuador's Correa faces indigenous revolt

world Updated: Sep 27, 2009 23:03 IST

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Ecuadoran President Rafael Correa is facing the worst spate of social unrest of his second term, with indigenous leaders planning protests beginning on Sunday against water privatization.

Opposition forces have reacted angrily to what they claim are moves by the government to privatize the country's natural resources -- in particular oil extraction and large-scale mining projects in traditionally indigenous areas.

The marches called by the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador (CONAIE), set to begin at midnight (0500 GMT).

They will be spread across seven of the country's 24 provinces and include road blocks, marches and demonstrations, according to indigenous leader Humberto Cholango.

"The uprising includes marches, demonstrations in cities, road closures nationwide but focuses on indigenous areas," Cholango told AFP.

Police said they would launch a security operation to prevent the protests from escalating into violence.

CONAIE charges that a water bill currently before the national assembly, where Correa's faction enjoys a majority, will allow transnational mining corporations to appropriate water reserves in areas close to their communities.

On Saturday, Correa accused indigenous leaders of trying to destabilize his government with "lies" and said the proposal does not seek to privatize water, a move forbidden by the Constitution.

"There is a destabilizing campaign that is trying to create conflict based on lies," he said in his weekly address.

The leftist leader also criticized Ecuador's major teacher's union, which went on strike last week in support of the indigenous communities, saying they want to "create chaos but it was a big failure" because only five percent of schools were forced to close temporarily.

Correa, who began his second term on August 10, called on natives to "not be manipulated" by some "leaders who are desperate because they lost their privileges.'

CONAIE participated in the overthrow of former presidents Abdala Bucaram (in February 1997) and Jamil Mahuad (in January 2000) during a stormy decade for Ecuador that saw it become the region's most unstable country.

Indigenous Ecuadorans make up about 30 percent of the country's population of 14.1 million. Their social organizations have become a powerful political force.