Five police officers were killed, several more wounded and prison guards taken hostage Tuesday in the latest wave of attacks in a deadly gang war consuming Ecuador, authorities said.
President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of exception and nightly curfew in two coastal provinces, Guayas and Esmeraldas. The move allows the government to limit freedom of assembly and movement.
Officials said organised crime groups launched nine attacks with explosives and firearms against police and oil installations in response to a transfer of inmates from Guayas 1 prison.
The prison, in the southwestern port city of Guayaquil, is one of the main scenes of a series of prison massacres that have left about 400 inmates dead since February 2021.
"We have had reactions" of "organised crime" in Guayaquil and in the northwestern oil port of Esmeraldas, Interior Minister Juan Zapata told reporters in the capital, Quito.
These included car bomb attacks and a bombing at a bus terminal.
In the early morning hours, two police officers died when their patrol car was attacked by people with firearms in Guayaquil, according to police.
Three more officers were gunned down later in the day in the port and the nearby city of Duran, police said.
A separate attack on a police station there left two officers injured.
In Esmeraldas -- the same city where two headless bodies were found hanging from a pedestrian bridge on Monday -- inmates took eight guards hostage, according to the SNAI prison authority.
All were later freed, it said, without giving details about the guards' condition.
A video circulated on Twitter appeared to show two guards with explosives tied to their bodies and a man claiming to be an inmate denouncing what he called prison corruption. AFP could not independently verify the video.
"If war is what they want, war is what they'll get," said the man, his face obscured, adding, "We will use these guards."
- 'Find the perpetrators' -
The SNAI had earlier announced on Twitter that it was moving about 200 inmates from Guayas 1.
It said the transfers were necessitated by required maintenance to cell blocks.
But according to the purported hostage video, the move was the reason for the events at Esmeraldas.
"Given the events in Esmeraldas and GYE (Guayaquil), we activated our tactical and investigative units to maintain order and find the perpetrators," the police said on Twitter.
Once a relatively peaceful neighbor of major cocaine producers Colombia and Peru, Ecuador has seen a wave of violent crime that authorities blame on turf battles between rival drug gangs believed to have ties to Mexican cartels.
Hundreds of inmates have been killed -- many beheaded or incinerated -- as the fighting spilled into Ecuador's hugely over-populated prisons.
Civilians have increasingly been caught up in the bloodshed, which has included a spate of car bombs.
The violence has claimed 61 police lives since last year.
Ecuador has gone from being a drug transit route in recent years to an important distribution center in its own right, with the United States and Europe the main destinations.
The murder rate in Ecuador nearly doubled in 2021 to 14 per 100,000 inhabitants, and reached 18 per 100,000 between January and October this year.
In 2021, law enforcement seized a record 210 tons of drugs, mostly cocaine.
So far this year's seizures total 160 tons.