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ARGENTINA | 20-12-2023 14:40

Bullrich issues warning ahead of rally as picket groups forecast high turnout

Security forces will be put under the spotlight later today when demonstrators deliver first challenge to Patricia Bullrich’s new anti-picket protest protocol.

Ahead of a crunch day in the capital during which demonstrators are expected to challenge her new anti-picket protest protocol, Security Minister Patricia Bullrich has warned protesters not to create “a situation of violence” on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Political commentators are expecting tensions in Buenos Aires later today when the first demonstration against the new Javier Milei government takes place. 

Those protesting will take to the streets to mark the anniversary of the violence witnessed on December 19 and 20, 2001, when marchers were attacked during demonstrations amid Argentina's worst-ever social and political crisis.

Attempting to head off any unrest, Bullrich and Milei have moved to introduce strict protocols for governing protests. The new rules include punishments for those who block streets and transport 

Human Capital Minister Sandra Pettovello announced earlier this week that any individual who receives state welfare payments who attempts to block streets will have their support revoked.

The government has also set up a telephone hotline and is encouraging those who say they are the victims of extortion by social groups to denounce wrongdoing.

Presidential Spokesperson Manuel Adorni said Wednesday that more than 5,000 complaints had been received to date. 

Reiterating previous comments by government ministers that beneficiaries of state social programmes will lose aid if they block streets, Bullrich declared Wednesday morning that if protesters “touch the street, they will lose” their welfare payments.

Her remarks came in response to questioning from Buenos Aires Province Governor Axel Kicillof, who has described the minister's new rules governing demonstrations as the "criminalisation" of protest.

"The government's decision is to put an end to street blockades. They can demonstrate as many times as they want... but the streets will not be cut off. Today will be a start, we should not expect 100 percent possibility of success, today begins a path that is without turning back," said Bullrich told the TN news channel.

Asked if she had a message for those marching, she declared: "Do not generate a situation of extreme violence."

Bullrich said her new protocols were an attempt to “put the country in order" and teach demonstrators that change will not be arrived at by picketing. 

Preparations began early on Wednesday ahead of the rally, with security ramped up around the Casa Rosada and Congress.

 Federal Police, Airport Security Police and National Gendarmerie officers were tasked with intercepting trucks, trains and buses of marchers across the City. They were enforcing the new protest rules, including the prohibition of the carrying of weapons and sticks and the using of hoods or face-coverings.

Speaking prior to the march, members of the Unidad Piquetera (UP) picketers association said they expected a large turnout, both in opposition to the Milei government measures and the new anti-protest protocol introduced by Bullrich.

"There are compañeros at the soup kitchens who eat once a day. They haven't received food for a month and a half," said Polo Obrero leader Eduardo Belliboni during an interview with Radio Colonia,

"This is the first mobilisation, we are not going to let them [deliver] austerity. There will be thousands of workers," he said.

Railway union leader Rubén ‘Pollo’ Sobrero, a member of the left-wing Frente de Izquierda y de los Trabajadores – Unidad, also highlighted the importance of Wednesday’s demonstration.

"Tomorrow is a crucial march for all those who are watching us, because what is being defined in Argentina is whether – when you want to go out to discuss a wage increase or a collective bargaining agreement – you will have to ask for permission or if you have the right to demand it," said Sobrero, who condemned the “threats” voiced by Bullrich.

Local residents in Sarandí blocked a train-line on Tuesday as they decried electricity blackouts following the weekend’s heavy thunderstorms and gale-force winds. 

The impromptu demonstration, which was not backed by picket groups, was dispersed after an hour but locals then went on to block other sections of the tracks. Regular service was resumed later in the evening.

Bullrich celebrated the lifting of the blockade on social media, declaring: "The pickets on the Roca train tracks at Sarandí station have been completely called. Law and order."



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