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ARGENTINA | 10-04-2024 16:28

Eleven arrests as police crack down on protesters in Buenos Aires

Police water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a temporary blockade of Avenida 9 de Julia.

At least 12 people were arrested and at least half a dozen injured on Wednesday during a demonstration by social organisations in Buenos Aires against President Javier Milei's economic measures.

Police were pelted with stones by demonstrators, said Buenos Aires City Security Minister Waldo Wolff. Officers then used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets to break up a temporary blockade of Avenida 9 de Julia.

One young man was injured after falling to the ground when he was tackled by the police and at least half a dozen people were injured. 

"We were demonstrating about the food and social emergency, the lack of food at soup kitchens, and what we received were sticks and bullets," said demonstrator Martín Velázquez, 46, who works in a soup kitchen.

President Milei’s government suspended emergency food aid to soup kitchens and community groups in December. The government says it is looking for a way to assist the most needy in a direct way and without intermediaries, but no transitional system has yet been established. 

The Human Capital Ministry has, however, signed contracts with aligned groups to provide emergency assistance to citizens.

Tensions began in Buenos Aires at around midday, when protesters cut off a stretch of the Avenida 9 de Julio thoroughfare. They were eventually dispersed after police fired rubber bullets, tear gas and used water cannons on protesters.

Around midday, protesters cut off a stretch of Avenida 9 de Julio, the main thoroughfare in downtown Buenos Aires, until they were removed by police using rubber bullets, tear gas and a hydrant truck.

One of the Milei government’s first measures upon taking office last December was to introduce an "anti-picket protocol" that empowers police to break up protests that block roads and cut off traffic.

"When we saw that the dialogue was fruitless, because there was no intention to stop blocking the avenues, what we did was to begin to act to clear Avenida 9 de Julio," Diego Kravetz, City security secretary, told the La Nación + news channel.

“In Buenos Aires City, order prevails. Every time they want to block roads, they will find us clearing them,” said Wolff in a post on social media.

The protest, called by the Unión de Trabajadores de la Economía Popular (UTEP) social organisation and the Unidad Piquetera picket group (which includes Movimiento La Dignidad and Polo Obrero), began at 11am. Hundreds of people gathered outside the offices of the ex-Social Development Ministry, which was downgraded by Milei and renamed the Secretariat of Children, Adolescents and Family.

UTEP said the aim was to demand the declaration of "a social emergency throughout the country.”

"For food, for work and for a roof over our heads, we continue to fight and make visible the programme of adjustment, looting and misery proposed by this government," said the group led by ex-presidential candidate Juan Grabois.

Four months into Milei’s government, demonstrations and protests are becoming a daily occurrence in Buenos Aires. With the president introducing strict austerity measures and slashing state subsidies, many citizens are suffering from the deep economic crisis that pre-dates the current administration.

Officially, more than 40 percent of the population lives in poverty (analysts say the current figure is higher) and inflation is running at more than 275 percent per annum.

As well as demanding greater food aid, protesters on Wednesday also denounced the lay-off of around 15,000 state workers, many of whom were contracted.

Milei maintains a strong level of popular support that, according to different pollsters, ranges between 40 and 57 percent. 


– TIMES/AFP/NA
 

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