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article imageThousands in Argentina protest against utility costs, IMF

By AFP     Jun 1, 2018 in World

Tens of thousands of demonstrators marched in the Argentine capital Friday to protest talks between the government and the IMF amid fresh public anger over a hike in utility prices.

Even as demonstrators gathered on Plaza de Mayo to bring political heat to bear on President Mauricio Macri for vetoing curbs on electricity, gas and water costs on Thursday, his finance minister was announcing painful new measures designed to reassure the markets.

Nicolas Dujovne announced $780 million worth of public spending cuts at a press conference at the government's Casa Rosada palace.

Among the targets of the cuts were technical assistance agreements with universities, labor agreements, and perks such as the use of state cars, travel and bonuses, the finance minister said.

The march had begun on May 28 from across the South American country's 23 provinces, culminating in the mass protest in Plaza de Mayo.

Demonstrators carried banners declaring "Bread and Work" and "Out with the IMF."

"There should already be a general strike. They cannot distract us with the World Cup or with Messi," said Pablo Moyano, one of the leaders of the main CGT union.

The march was called by the Confederation of Workers of the Popular Economy (CTEP) which groups half a million people without registered employment.

The leadership is close to the Catholic hierarchy and Pope Francis, a former archbishop of Buenos Aires.

Its leader Juan Grabois said that given a widening gap between the middle class and the poor, "Argentina is unviable and the people will rebel."

- Anti-IMF sentiment -

Demonstrators hold signs reading "No to the IMF" as thousands of protesters from the provi...
Demonstrators hold signs reading "No to the IMF" as thousands of protesters from the provinces and from the suburbs of the Argentine capital march towards the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, on June 1, 2018

Another leader, Daniel Menendez, said Macri's decision this week to veto curbs on utility prices approved by Congress only gave added impetus to the protest.

In tandem with other measures, the aim of the cuts announced by Dujovne is to reduce the fiscal deficit from 3.9 percent of GDP to 2.7 percent this year.

Critics meanwhile point to a cost of living increase of almost 10 percent between January and April alone, and that a Central Bank survey that puts inflation expectations at 22 percent, well above its 15 percent target.

Macri on Thursday used his veto to scrap a law placing curbs on utility prices, citing the need for fiscal discipline.

The opposition-sponsored law, approved hours earlier by the Senate after heated debate, would have rolled back prices for public utilities to November levels, and linked future hikes to salary increases.

It was the fifth time since Macri became president in December 2015 that he exercised his veto, a move that will likely deepen his unpopularity and which comes after a damaging currency run saw the Argentine peso lose 20 percent against the dollar and a decision to go to the IMF.

Opinion polls say as many as 75 percent of Argentinians oppose any agreement with the IMF, which many link to painful memories of past economic and social crises, including a 2001 sovereign debt default blamed on the lender.

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