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article imagePolice use tear gas to disperse Argentina budget protests

By AFP     Oct 24, 2018 in World

Protests against Argentine President Mauricio Macri's draft austerity budget turned violent Wednesday as police clashed with demonstrators outside the Congress building in Buenos Aires.

Riot-police used tear gas and fired rubber bullets to disperse rock-throwing demonstrators from outside the Congress, where lawmakers prepared to vote on the controversial budget later Wednesday.

Authorities said nine police were injured, and at least 27 protesters arrested.

Unions and Argentina's leftist opposition have criticized the center-right government's economic program of sweeping spending cuts to meet the requirements of an upgraded $57 billion International Monetary Fund loan.

"No to the IMF budget. Don't cut our future!" shouted demonstrators outside while, inside the chamber, feelings ran high as lawmakers jostled and traded insults. Two lawmakers who arrived for the vote were affected by the tear-gas and the session was paused to allow them to recover.

Macri's Cambiemos, or "Let's Change," coalition lacks a majority in the lower house but analysts said it is likely to get support from some factions of the Peronist opposition to pass the budget, which includes a combination of spending cuts and tax increases.

Demonstrators throw stones with slingshots at riot police outside the Congress while Argentine Deput...
Demonstrators throw stones with slingshots at riot police outside the Congress while Argentine Deputies began the discussion on the government's austere 2019 budget, in Buenos Aires

Street protests have reflected growing public anger after Macri slashed public service jobs as part of a bid to erase Argentina's fiscal deficit and tame inflation of around 40 percent at the IMF's behest.

"It's important to approve it to get out of this emergency situation," Cambiemos lawmaker Luciano Laspina told reporters ahead of the vote.

The deficit was 3.9 percent of GDP last year. The government plans to get it down to 2.7 percent in 2018 and zero by the end of next year.

"It's a brutal adjustment," said Sonia Alesso, leader of the teacher's union, which began a 24-hour strike on Wednesday in protest at education cuts.

Macri has pledged cuts of $10 billion in sectors running from health, education and science to transportation, public works and culture.

"These are savage cuts," said Axel Kiciloff, economy minister in the previous leftist government of Cristina Kirchner.

"Voting for this budget would guarantee hunger for Argentines," said opposition MP Leonardo Grosso.

The peso has lost half its value against the dollar this year but the Central Bank has largely stopped the rot by hiking interest rates to a world record 72 percent.

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