Congress chooses Peronist as Argentina's new president

Wednesday, January 2, 2002

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Congress named a Peronist party leader as Argentina's the fifth president in two weeks Tuesday as the country reeled from its most serious political and economic crisis in decades.

The Peronist-controlled Congress overwhelmingly confirmed old-style populist Eduardo Duhalde as head of state.

The vote was 262-21, with 18 abstentions.

Duhalde, 60, who hails from the left wing of the Peronist party, was elected after five hours of debate by Congress.

He is to complete the unfinished term of Fernando De la Rua, who left power Dec. 21 amid street riots.

Three others held the office briefly between De la Rua and Duhalde, a former governor of Buenos Aires province who also served as Argentina's vice president in the early 1990s.

"Viva Argentina! Viva Peron!" hundreds of supporters chanted outside Congress as Duhalde rose to power.

But even amid cheers, it was a tense day in Argentina as riot police tightly guarded Congress, erecting tall iron fences around the ornate rotunda in downtown Buenos Aires.

In a brief outburst of violence hours earlier, hundreds of rival political demonstrators battled each other with slingshots, stones and paving blocks.

Violence quelled

Although the violence was swiftly quelled by police firing tear gas and rubber bullets, the street brawling was a clear sign of Argentines' simmering anger at their politicians, whom they blame for a crippling recession of nearly four years

Waving red flags, student supporters of more extreme left-wing groups battled with the Peronist demonstrators. Two injuries were reported.

Guarding against a return to the widespread street violence that has shaken Argentina in recent weeks, hundreds of police also stood guard outside the Plaza de Mayo, a major city square surrounded by government's central offices.

The abrupt resignation of interim President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa on Sunday left this country of 36 million without any clear leadership and, even worse, without an economic plan to save Argentina -- long Latin America's most prosperous country -- from bankruptcy and social chaos.

Argentina plunged into political turmoil Dec. 21 as De la Rua resigned his presidency after days of rioting, protests and looting across the country that left 28 people dead.

Rodriguez Saa quit when political support withered after one week in office. Protests in the capital continued as Argentines grew increasingly angry over strict banking restrictions, political infighting, and his appointment of Cabinet members widely seen as corrupt.

Two other men have also served briefly as acting president since de la Rua's resignation, both reluctantly: Former Senate leader Ramon Puerta inherited the job when de la Rua quit, and Chamber of Deputies leader Eduardo Camano took over Monday from Rodriguez Saa.

Duhalde, who ran second to De la Rua in a 1999 election, is a critic of the free-market reforms Argentina has undertaken over the last 10 years.

His province, home to a third of the country's 36 million people and politically the most powerful, ran up millions of dollars in debt under his administration, which was also plagued with accusations of corruption.

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