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Protests Intensify in Quito, Ecuador Ahead of Free Trade Talks

Thousands of people marched in Ecuador's capital of Quito Thursday to protest talks this week on the Free Trade Area for the Americas. As top hemispheric officials arrive for the talks, authorities deployed more than 5,000 police to patrol key areas including the talk sites. Thousands of Indians are also came to the city to joint the protest.

Protests are growing as more anti-trade deal demonstrators arrive in Quito to voice their anger. Earlier this week police fired teargas to disperse teenagers near the city's Central University. Also in the city's north, a few dozen protesters harassed diners entering the McDonald's fast food franchise. Television images showed them burning shirts they had apparently wrested from the restaurant workers.

On Friday, Ministers and Representatives from 34 Western Hemisphere countries are to discuss the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). And some 900 business leader from those nations will be meeting separately to form proposals they want the trade pact to include. If approved, the FTAA deal would create in year 2005 the world's largest free trade block stretching from Alaska in North America to Argentina here on the South American continent, excluding Cuba. This week's meetings are aimed at hammering out agreements that spell out decreases in tariffs. The talks are co-chaired by the United States and Brazil. Brazil accounts for almost half the economic output here in South America.

Brazil's ambassador to Ecuador, Sergio Florencio, says he doesn't see Sunday's election of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva as changing Brazil's position on the trade deal.

"Quite the contrary I believe that his election will promote greater participation of the society in the process which is important," he said. "And basically whether the end result will be positive or negative will depend, I believe, on the balance of benefits of the different parties involved."

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick told reporters the key issue at the talks is not tariffs, but on how to create more jobs for the region.