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Argentina's police step up their response to growing anti-government protests

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LA Post: Argentina's police step up their response to growing anti-government protests
April 10, 2024
AP

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — A confrontation between Argentine authorities and anti-government protesters angered by President Javier Milei's spending cuts escalated on Wednesday, as protesters blocking the capital's key thoroughfare were forcibly dispersed and eight of the movement’s participants arrested.

In a rare move, riot police officers deployed powerful water cannons, drenching demonstrators. Argentines demanding more food for soup kitchens hurled sticks and stones, set garbage cans alight and paralyzed the main street of Buenos Aires in defiance of new legal changes banning roadblocks.

Strikes and protests have gripped the country in recent weeks as Argentines, struggling to cope with Milei's painful austerity measures amid soaring inflation, vent their anger and despair on the streets. Bus drivers plan to strike on Thursday.

Burnishing a tough-on-crime image, Milei's right-wing government passed new measures last December empowering security forces to arrest and disperse protesters who block roads. Milei has also threatened to withdraw social assistance from those accused of disrupting traffic. Critics — including a team of United Nations human rights experts — have criticized the restrictions as civil liberties violations.

“We are finishing liberating Julio de 9," said Waldo Wolff, Buenos Aires' minister of security, referring to the traffic-clogged thoroughfare Wednesday. “We are restoring order in the center of Buenos Aires.”

Wolff told local media that eight protesters had been charged with vandalism.

“LAW AND ORDER,” Security Minister Patricia Bullrich wrote on social media platform X, praising police and posting televised photos of the forces clamping down.

Protesters gathered at the Ministry of Human Capital, the embattled agency overseeing Argentina's social benefits. In a radical effort to stabilize Argentina's long-troubled economy, Milei has drastically slashed government spending — laying off public workers, reducing energy and transport subsidies, canceling public works and reducing transfers to provinces.

As annual inflation tops 276% and Argentines slip deeper into poverty, they have increasingly flocked to soup kitchens run by left-wing parties or social groups to tide them over. But Milei's austerity measures have also hurt food pantries — locally known as “comedores" — halting food deliveries and cutting their funding.

“The only thing this government proposes for the people is planned misery,” the workers' union leading the protest said in a statement.

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