Fires, tear gas as Argentine police clash with protesters

By AFP
June 14, 2024
A demonstrator gestures during a protest near the National Congress in Buenos Aires, Argentina, June 12, 2024. — Reuters

BUNENOS AIRES: Hundreds of security force members fired tear gas and water cannon on Thursday at rioting demonstrators protesting in Buenos Aires against proposed economic reforms.

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Two cars were set ablaze as the demonstration outside Congress turned violent while Argentine lawmakers debated a swath of liberalizing reforms proposed by budget-slashing President Javier Milei.

Scuffles first broke out when protesters tried to bypass a system of fences set up between them and Congress, with demonstrators lobbing stones at officers who used pepper spray against them.

Seven people, including five lawmakers among the protesters, were treated at hospital after being pepper sprayed, according to the health ministry. Dozens of others received medical attention at the scene.

Later, as night fell, thick blocks of shield-bearing officers and others on motorbikes pushed back the protesters, who overturned two cars -- one of which belonged to a local media organization -- and set them on fire.

At least 10 people were arrested and nine police officers were injured, a spokesman for the Ministry of Security told AFP. The office of the president on X denounced “the terrorist groups that with sticks, stones and even grenades, tried to perpetrate a coup d´Ã©tat.”

Inside Congress, meanwhile, senators debated what remains of Milei´s flagship reform bill -- rejected in its original form and approved with major changes by the lower house Chamber of Deputies in April.

The whittled-down bill has 238 articles -- slimmed from an initial 600-plus. The measures include declaring a one-year state of economic emergency, allowing Milei to disband federal agencies, and privatizing about a dozen public companies including state-owned carrier Aerolineas Argentina.

Others deal with reducing access to minimum retirement allowances and weakening labor protections by allowing for longer probation periods -- slammed by the left-wing opposition as a license to fire workers.

The provisions also envision tax, customs and foreign exchange incentives to encourage investment in the country wracked by economic crisis. On the Senate floor, opposition lawmakers claimed the bill would set progress back by decades.

The labor reforms, in particular, “take us back to the last century when the employee had no labor rights,” said opposition senator Mariano Recalde. The bill is opposed by social organizations, leftist political parties, retirees, teachers and labor unions.

“We cannot believe that in Argentina we are discussing a law that will put us back 100 years,” said Fabio Nunez, a 55-year-old lawyer among the protesters. If approved, in discussions set to continue until the early hours of Thursday, the law will return to the lower house for a final green light.

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