BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- President Nestor Kirchner told Congress on Wednesday that Argentina's recovery from a deep crisis in 2002 is one of the strongest rebounds here in a century.
Kirchner said last year's renegotiation of a more than $100 billion debt default was a success, and that the country gained greater financial independence through its early payment of $9.75 billion in debt to the International Monetary Fund in January.
"Little by little, we are recovering from the worst crisis in our history," Kirchner said in the nationally televised annual address to Congress.
A December 2001 economic meltdown triggered street riots, looting, debt default and devaluation. But the past three years of economic growth have been among the strongest in 100 years, Kirchner said.
"These are signs of a new beginning. Our economy is on a course of uninterrupted growth. This is historic fact, that our growth rates are some of the highest in the world," Kirchner told applauding lawmakers.
Hundreds of Kirchner supporters rallied outside Congress praising his economic course.
"It's not just happening by magic. The economy has improved immensely," said Kirchner supporter Italo Montanaro.
Kirchner said industry and farm exports were spurring recovery, but that credit was also being restored to the economy and that 6 million people had recently come out of poverty.
Kirchner, a center-left president who took power more than two years ago, has pushed through strong fiscal controls and programs to spur jobs.
He won the loudest applause when he said the early repayment to the IMF was a "historic step" that allowed the country to reclaim economic independence after years of oversight by the Washington-based lender. Kirchner repaid the debt by tapping reserves then approaching $27 billion.
"This is truly a great turning point," said Kirchner.
He also said long-term investment had returned and that joblessness, once as high as 21 percent, was now nearly down to 10 percent -- the lowest in 12 years.
On Wednesday, Kirchner also called on neighboring Uruguay to suspend for 90 days construction of two major wood pulp plants on the Rio Uruguay border, allowing time to defuse a dispute marring relations.
The two countries have been feuding for months over plans by Uruguay to install the plants. Argentine environmentalists warned about pollutants in the sensitive farming area, charges dismissed by Uruguay.
Kirchner said "this dispute is raising tension, exchanges of words between Argentina and Uruguay. We need only 90 days."
Farmer Jorge Munoz, 53, who was rallying outside Congress, said he thought Kirchner was different from other politicians.
"All governments promise things, but they're only lies. Kirchner promises things, too, but things actually change."