By JEANNETH VALDIVIESO, Associated Press Writer Wed Feb 22, 11:29 PM ET
BAEZA, Ecuador - Two dozen Ecuadorean pipeline workers held hostage by protesters escaped Wednesday as soldiers and police battled to end violent demonstrations that have interrupted the flow of crude through the country’s two main pipelines, officials said.
About 3,000 protesters hurled rocks and dynamite Wednesday at security forces in Baeza, located 30 miles from OCP Ecuador’s pumping station, which was seized late Tuesday.
The takeover prompted President Alfredo Palacio to declare a state of emergency in the region.
The company said all 24 oil workers, who left when protesters weren’t paying attention, were uninjured.
"The two police were hit by discharges of dynamite and their legs are totally destroyed," police spokesman Patricio Kimso told AP. "Because of the gravity of the wounds they have been evacuated to Quito."
An Associated Press reporter watched as two wounded police were placed on an army helicopter after a confrontation in Baeza.
Television stations broadcast images of three men apparently shot and wounded by soldiers who were trying to repel hundreds of people hurling stones at them Tuesday in the nearby town of Borja.
Leaders of the jungle province have supported the protesters’ demands that the government spend $40 million to build two highways and an airport.
The projects had been promised by former President Lucio Gutierrez, a native of the region, who was forced out of office in April 2005 and who is now imprisoned.
The protesters on Sunday raided state-owned Petroecuador’s Salado pumping station, 45 miles east of Quito, shutting the pipeline down for about 16 hours.
Soon after operations resumed Tuesday, the protesters took over the Sardinas pumping station, forcing a shutdown of the OCP pipeline - principally owned by Argentina’s Repsol-YPF, U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. and Canada’s EnCana Corp.
The two pipelines form the Andean nation’s main oil arteries in a country where exports, taxes and royalties from crude account for 43 percent of the national budget.