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Angry Argentines stage mass protest at bank restrictions

Angry Argentines to join a nationwide protest against government-imposed restrictions on access to bank accounts and demand that Supreme Court justices step down.
"Today we are going to take part alongside hundreds of thousands of families across the country in a national pot-banging," said Ruben Saboulard, leader of the residents' association of the San Telmo district of Buenos Aires.

The clanging, high-decibel mode of protest has become the soundtrack of discontent in Argentina since the country defaulted on its international debt last month and President Eduardo Duhalde froze some 65 billion dollars (75 billion euros) in savings accounts to prevent a run on banks that could worsen the country's dire financial straits.

The Supreme Court -- already unpopular among many Argentines for having freed former president Carlos Menem from house arrest in November when he was being investigated for illegal arms sales -- has lost even more popularity points by approving the wildly unpopular financial restrictions.

Now demonstrators want the nine justices to pack their briefcases and go.

Thousands of angry Argentines are expected to turn out at 2300 GMT in squares in bustling Buenos Aires and cities across Argentina's 23 provinces, called out by the capital's Interneighborhood Assembly, which has no political or union affiliation.

"There won't be violence; we are not violent," Saboulard said. "We are going to be with our families and we will have our own security system."

The fact that the protests are spontaneous and not led by political parties or unions was underlined by Argentine historian Felix Luna.

"This is a very primitive form of direct action which is not organized by any group," he said. "The demonstrations are a collective display of bad temper against political corruption, the Supreme Court and all those who the demonstrators feel have led the country into crisis."

Many downtown banks were boarding up their windows and posting security guards ahead of the expected protests, according to witnesses.

And presidential spokesman Eduardo Amadeo warned the government would be wheeling out a major security operation "so that nothing gets out of line."

"The government's obligation is to ensure that nothing gets out of line in terms of lives or people's property, and that is why there will be a large security structure in place," Amadeo told Radio Mitre.

In three massive national protests in which thousands of men and women have marched since last month, 30 people have been killed nationwide as demonstrators clashed with police, at times looting and destroying bank branches and foreign-owned businesses.

"We are concerned that in the midst of this march somebody may want to make this a black Friday," Amadeo said. "The government's impression from prior marches gives us reason to think there are ad hoc groups, neighborhood groups expressing their demands, but that in their midst there are people familiar with the language of violence, and faced with that, the government will draw the line."

Government Security Chief Juan Jose Alvarez said the capital's central square, the Plaza de Mayo, a gathering place for past demonstrations, would be closed to protesters who would also be banned from nearby Government House.

For 11 years, Argentina's peso was tied at par with the dollar, and Argentines have seen their currency lose almost 50 percent of its value since that peg was lifted earlier this month.

Duhalde originally said savings made in dollars would be returned in that currency, but eventually admitted this was impossible as there are simply not enough greenbacks in the banking system.

The announcement that the government was preparing to wean Argentines off the US currency was generally welcomed by banks, but depositors were far less happy.

A key question is whether the dollars would be turned into pesos at the recently scrapped one-to-one peg, at the dollar rate of 1.40 pesos fixed by the government for certain transactions, or at the levels set by the market.



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