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Two Die in Argentina Worker Clash

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - Police and national guardsmen fired tear gas Wednesday at hundreds of jobless protesters trying to blockade highways around the capital. Two people were killed and at least 90 injured.
It is the worst outbreak of violence since caretaker President Eduardo Duhalde took power in January, and recalls the street riots in December that toppled then-president Fernando de la Rua.

Demonstrators said dozens of their colleagues were injured, claiming police fired on them from rooftops, shops and an elevated pedestrian walkway. The claim could not be independently verified.

Acrid white tear gas wafted through the air as masked protesters scrambled to flee rifle-toting riot police. Officers fired from behind plastic shields during the confrontations, which happened at late morning at the Puerredon bridge, a key highway connecting the capital's north and south.

Police said that two people died, at least 90 people were injured and 173 were arrested.

Masked demonstrators responded to volleys of police tear gas and rubber bullets with a hail of rocks. The protesters also used homemade clubs to shatter shop windows and smash cars. One bus was set afire after the driver said he and passengers were forced off at gunpoint.

There were other demonstrations around the country.

Unemployed workers blocked other access routes to the capital, challenging recent government pledges to use force if necessary to maintain public order. Workers demanding government food assistance and jobs blocked a highway in the central city of Cordoba.

Road blockades and protests against the government's handling of a protracted recession have become near daily events across Argentina since the crisis exploded into street riots last December that claimed 29 lives.

The government of President Eduardo Duhalde warned protesters in recent days to exercise restraint, warning it would not hesitate to use force to maintain order.

Since January, Argentina has devalued its currency more than 73 percent against the dollar, defaulted on its $141 billion public debt and seen billions of dollars in international aid shut off.

On Wednesday, lines again formed at banks as jittery peso holders sought to buy dollars. The peso was valued for 11 years at 1 to 1 with the dollar until a January devaluation. The local currency has been ebbing in value for months, falling this week to nearly 4 pesos to the dollar.

Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna was to meet in Washington on Wednesday with officials of the International Monetary Fund in hopes of a resumption of bailout aid for the country.
 
 

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