Argentine economy minister presents resignation

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

Associated Press WriterBUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentina's economy minister presented his resignation Tuesday, touching off a new crisis over how to steer Argentina out of a deep downturn, a government official said.

Jorge Remes Lenicov's resignation means this prosperous South American nation of 36 million would now be seeking its seventh economy minister since the beginning of last year.

Remes Lenicov is resigning amid rising challenges to his plan to rescue Argentina from a four-year recession, said an Economy ministry official, who spoke on condition of not being identified further. The independent Todo Noticias network also carried the report.

The development sparked renewed uncertainty about the government's ability to surmount an economic collapse and came on a day of small but raucous protests over the handling of the economy.

"We are out," said the Economy Ministry official, part of the group brought in by Remes Lenicov under the caretaker government of President Eduardo Duhalde who took office Jan. 2 after the crisis exploded here. Duhalde was the fifth president in a two-week span.

Government officials had no immediate confirmation, but local reports said Duhalde had summoned his cabinet for emergency meetings. The Todo Noticias television network said a new economy minister was being sought.

The development came on a day when angry Argentines, upset over a banking freeze, took their protest to Congress. They opposed a looming debate on a plan to give depositors their savings in bonds rather than cash -- an idea chiefly developed by Remes Lenicov.

"Bonds no! Bonds no!" some 200 protesters chanted Tuesday outside Congress, raising banners insulting politicians and bankers whom many Argentines blame for the nearly five-month-old banking freeze that only allows limited cash withdrawals.

It was the second day of protests outside the legislature.

All foreign exchange and banking transactions remained indefinitely halted until the government draws up an economic plan to stem the outflow of about $100 million a day from the banks.

The program aims to end thousands of successful lawsuits contesting the partial banking freeze imposed on Dec. 1 by the government of former President Fernando De la Rua.

Those restrictions still remain and limit cash withdrawals to about $500 a month, but judges have consistently upheld the right of savers who have challenged the decision in the courts.

Argentina is suffering its worst economic downturn in decades. The country defaulted on its $141 billion debt in December, began devaluing its currency in January and is coping with joblessness topping 18 percent.

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