Protest strikes disrupt Argentine cities

Nov. 21, 2012 at 4:38 PM
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BUENOS AIRES, Nov. 21 (UPI) -- Argentine cities faced disruptions as the second mass protest in a month challenged President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's government.

Most road communications and many air connections faced cancellations and delays as the protests, the second major street unrest in two weeks, gripped Buenos Aires and other Argentine cities.

Fernandez said she won't be cowed by "threats and tantrums" and dismissed the protests as a feeble attempt to destabilize her administration.

Tens of thousands of protesters against the president's economic policies poured into the streets to press their demands for jobs, higher wages and lower taxes.

Protesters set up road blocks and strike action by employees of various transport unions forced cancellation of services in public transport networks. Buses, trains and airports were affected, most banks remained shut.

Argentina's CGT labor federation broke away from Fernandez ranks last year and is widely seen as the main force behind the protests, which followed other protests on Nov. 8.

Opposition to Fernandez has grown since her re-election last year and is based largely on disenchantment with her economic policies which have failed to ease inflation, unemployment and the poverty trap for millions of Argentine citizens.

A year ago the president carried the vote with a 54 percent majority but her approval ratings have plummeted in recent months, mainly in response to the country's poor economic performance.

Critics also blame the president's style of government which they say alienates people with genuine grievances. Her approval ratings are below 34 percent.

Fernandez came to power in 2007, Argentina's first elected female president, and loyalists have sparked popular fury with calls for a constitutional amendment to allow her to seek a third term in office.

Kirchner succeeded her husband Nestor in the presidency. The couple fostered a highly personalized and controversial style of governance and political leadership until Nestor died of a heart attack in 2010. At that time he was secretary-general of the Union of South American Nations but dominated Argentina's political scene behind the scenes.

Argentine Interior and Transportation Minister Florencio Randazzo condemned the strike, likening it to extortion by the striking trade unions federation and other protesters.

"It is not a strike in favor of the workers, as they want to pretend," he declared in a televised statement.

"It runs opposite to the interest of workers, because it affected thousands of people, who wanted to get to work," Randazzo said.

Road blocks set up by the protesters blocked most major roads in Buenos Aires and similar action by protesters in other cities caused huge disruptions.

Businesses in some parts of the capital suffered damage during the protests but there were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests.

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