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Crisis-Hit Argentina Declares State of Emergency, 5 Dead

Argentina declared a 30-day state of emergency in response to mounting public unrest over the crumbling economy in which five people were killed.
Crisis-hit Argentina declares state of emergency, five dead

Argentina declared a 30-day state of emergency in response to mounting public unrest over the crumbling economy in which five people were killed.

The measure late Wednesday came as the South American nation -- mired in 3-1/2 years of crippling recession -- battled to stave off economic collapse and avoid default on its 132-billion-dollar public debt.

President Fernando de la Rua's decree grants special powers to the executive and suspends constitutional guarantees but Defense Minister Horacio Jaunarena said the government would not resort to the use of armed forces.

In a speech to the nation late Wednesday, the Argentine leader called for a meeting of all political parties, provincial governors and lawmakers to try to find a resolution to the widening economic and political crisis.

He also warned protesters to halt violent demonstrations and the looting of stores across the country, which left five dead and dozen injured, according to the latest official toll. Police made some 350 arrests.

"The causes of the situation date back a long time. Those who have ruled must conduct a self-analysis and we can move forward from there. We must assume a historic responsibility and decide to work together," he said.

De la Rua said the government had set aside seven million dollars in emergency food aid to help those in urgent need.

Thousands filled the streets of Buenos Aires following the address, honking car horns and banging pans in disapproval of the president.

Meanwhile, the Chamber of Deputies voted Wednesday to repeal special powers granted to the country's Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo in March to deal with the crisis. The opposition-controlled Senate was debating a similar measure.

The lower house also approved a bill that would amend severe restrictions placed on cash withdrawals earlier this month by Cavallo in an attempt to stem capital flight from the country.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund refused to disburse 1.264 billion dollars in much-needed aid to Argentina, due to the country's failure to maintain its zero budget deficit policy.

On Friday, Argentina paid part of the 1.1 billion dollars required to avoid default on its public debt but is still facing an uphill battle to meet payment deadlines later this month.

Labor unions last week held the seventh general strike since De la Rua took office -- and an eighth strike is set for Christmas Eve.

On Wednesday, protesters across the country rejected the government's efforts to resolve the crisis, looting more than 100 supermarkets and setting fire to the city hall in Cordoba, the country's fourth-largest city.

Later Wednesday in Cordoba province, three labor unions said they did not recognize the federal state of emergency and called for a strike on Thursday.

"We're hungry, we need something to eat," cried some as they tried to steal meat from a butcher shop outside the capital before being stopped by police.

"Look at what we have to do to have some bread on our tables. We don't want handouts -- we want to work, earn a living with dignity," said Ana Cecilia Nunez, a mother of five living outside the capital.

Two men were killed in attempted looting of supermarkets in the poor suburbs of Buenos Aires. Three others were killed in the central province of Santa Fe -- two in clashes with police and a third in a looting incident.

A peaceful demonstration of thousands of government workers in the country's Buenos Aires province deteriorated into confrontations with police. Protesters smashed the windows of bank buildings with rocks, police said.

In the provincial capital La Plata, about 20 government workers were wounded by rubber bullets and other objects during confrontations with police over unpaid salaries. Seven police officers were hurt in the clashes.

Earlier in the day, demonstrators stoned and kicked de la Rua's car as it carried him from a meeting with leaders from various sectors in Buenos Aires aimed at addressing the country's financial crisis.

"This is anarchy. This economic model is making people poor, and I don't know how this is going to end because of the chaos," said opposition Peronist Senator Eduardo Duhalde.

The opposition blames the de la Rua administration for showing a lack of leadership during the crisis.

But government spokesman Juan Pablo Baylac said late Wednesday that Cavallo's resignation was out of the question.

De la Rua ruled out any change in the country's currency policy as a solution to the crisis, saying one-to-one parity between the peso and the US dollar would continue.

The IMF predicted more economic hardships for Argentina on Tuesday, saying its economy would shrink for a fourth straight year in 2002.

But the country's stock market continued to soar, with the MerVal index up 7.62 percent at day's end to 272.76 points.



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