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Anti-Austerity Strike Picks Up Steam in Argentina

November 25, 2000|From Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES — Millions of workers stayed off their jobs Friday in the largest national strike in years as a union-led protest against government belt-tightening measures virtually paralyzed Argentina.

The 36-hour stoppage by the country's three most powerful unions claimed its first fatality when a motorcyclist, angry at being blocked from crossing a bridge, shot dead a striker and wounded another in northeastern Chaco province.

During the second day of the strike, protesters blocked roads across Argentina with flaming tires. Schools and businesses were forced to shut down, as were transportation, energy and banking services.

The strike even caused the postponement of soccer matches.

In Neuquen, about 640 miles southwest of Buenos Aires, 15 youths looted a supermarket and injured a policeman, police said.

The Interior Ministry reported 34 strike-related arrests across the country.

The strike was a response to President Fernando de la Rua's call for more economic austerity for a recession-bound nation where the unemployment rate tops 15%. It is the third and largest strike during his year-old presidency.

It was called 10 days ago, after De la Rua announced a five-year public spending freeze, an increase in the retirement age and changes to the pension system.

The new sacrifices came on top of an earlier austerity campaign that raised taxes, lowered salaries for state workers and reformed labor laws. International lenders say the measures are needed if Argentina is to receive billions of dollars worth of fresh loans.

The protest began Thursday, when thousands of workers poured out of offices and factories, and union stalwarts blocked roads and sent bottle rockets flying.

The strike climaxed Friday as the country's biggest union joined the strike, sending workers from hospitals, trains, gas stations, banks and garbage collection services onto the streets.

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