Tens of thousands of protesters descended on Ecuador's capital Wednesday, as unrest sparked by rising gasoline prices continued to metastasize into chaos and violence that seemed to threaten the presidency of Lenin Moreno.
With one death, more than 700 arrests and millions in property damage, Moreno, 66, had fled the capital and was blaming his political rivals and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro for the discontent.
On Wednesday, Ecuador's Interior Minister Maria Paula Romo said many of the country's main roads remained closed but that the initial wave of marches had been peaceful. And while she acknowledged that there were legitimate protests taking place in the country, she said the marches had been "infiltrated" by agitators who were trying to topple the president.
During a news conference, Defense Minister Oswaldo Jarrin said "criminal elements" were using the marches as cover to loot, destroy property and commit acts of "terrorism" aimed at destabilizing the country.
Authorities said they had closed a road into Guayaquil to keep what they called "violent groups" from descending on the city.
Protests began gathering steam last week when Moreno announced that he was eliminating a four-decade old fuel subsidy that he said was costing the nation $1.4 billion a year. On Monday the protests turned violent amid clashes with the police in the historic center of Quito, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Protesters have also tried to seize power plants, congress, and other government offices.
Amid the growing anger, Moreno took the unprecedented step of moving the seat of government to Guayaquil -- a coastal city more than 150 miles from Quito. In addition, he has declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew.
During an interview late Tuesday, Moreno reiterated his claims that the protests had been co-opted by political actors with outside help. In particular, he said that former President Rafael Correa, his bitter political enemy, had met with Maduro recently in Caracas.
In Venezuela "they set the stage for how to agitate the country," he said, without offering any proof. "They know how to steal and kill without anyone realizing it."
He also said that an attack on the Comptroller and Attorney General's Office was planned as a way to destroy corruption evidence the government was collecting against Correa and members of his Cabinet.