Argentina's latest leader faces protests

Sunday, January 27, 2002

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Citizen anger over a government banking freeze erupted into fresh unrest early Saturday as President Eduardo Duhalde confronted the first nationwide protest against his rule.

The banking curbs, imposed Dec. 1 by the previous president, were tightened by Duhalde after he said drastic steps were needed to keep the teetering financial system afloat. Argentines are angry because government limits on how much they can withdraw from their bank accounts has put their savings in limbo while the Duhalde administration tries to stave off financial collapse.

Riot police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of peaceful demonstrators and rock-throwing youths on the fringes of a rally winding down late Friday night.

Demonstrators lingered in the streets for hours early Saturday before crowds began melting away before dawn.

"Get out! Get out!" people chanted, venting their anger at Duhalde's 3-week-old caretaker government.

Others complained of corruption by officials.

"They're all thieves!" some shouted.

At least 13 people were reported injured in clashes outside the government palace, known as the Casa Rosada, beginning around midnight.

Dozens of people reportedly were detained. The violence began late Friday amid a driving rain as some 10,000 people entered the streets to bang pots and pans in what, for hours, was a peaceful nighttime protest.

Adolfo Valotta, a 29-year-old lawyer demonstrating in the streets early Saturday, said Argentines are rightly angry with their government for the economic mess.

"We are fed up with the politicians. People want their money, and solutions that will end this crisis," Valotta said. "The government isn't moving fast enough."

Since taking office Jan. 2, Duhalde has devalued the peso by more than 30 percent and further tightened a widely despised banking freeze that has locked most Argentines' savings into bank accounts.

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