QUITO, Ecuador (AP) — The National Assembly passed a constitutional amendment Thursday to lift Ecuador's presidential term limits as violent street protests escalated against what many demonstrators deemed a power grab by President Rafael Correa.
Part of a package of amendments, the measure will permit the leftist Correa to run for the office indefinitely beginning in 2021. His current term ends in 2017 and he has said he does not intend to run at that time.
Analysts have called Correa's decision a shrewd political move considering Ecuador's current economic woes.
Outside the cordoned-off assembly, protesters who had been blocking major intersections with burning tires grew in number. Armed with sticks and rocks, some battled riot police, who responded with tear gas and batons. There were no official numbers on injuries, but local media reported some police and protesters had been bloodied.
Street clashes were also reported in other cities.
Popular for generous social spending since first taking office in 2007, Correa has in recent months been forced to drastically cut back on spending and impose new taxes after world prices for the country's oil plunged.
Since June, Correa has faced mounting demonstrations by a wide spectrum of forces, including labor unions, indigenous groups and the traditional conservative opposition.
Correa's Alianza Pais party holds a two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and the package of constitutional changes won easily on a 100-8 vote in the 137-seat chamber.
Beyond lifting the limit on presidential terms, the amendments remove collective bargaining for public employees, put the military in charge of domestic security and declare communications a public service.
Human rights activist groups have criticized Correa for using his monopoly across all branches of government to stifle dissent, and they fear the latter measure will even further restrict freedom of expression.
In allied Bolivia, backers of President Evo Morales are also seeking to extend their leader's mandate. Bolivian voters will decide in a February referendum whether to change the constitution so Morales can run for re-election when his current five-year term expires in 2019.
Associated Press writer Frank Bajak in Lima, Peru, contributed to this report.