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ARGENTINA | 13-03-2021 15:33

Protesters in Lago Puelo attack bus carrying President Fernández

Dozens of protesters kicked and threw rocks at a minibus carrying President Alberto Fernández on Saturday as he visited an area in Patagonia devastated by forest fires.

Dozens of protesters kicked and threw rocks at a minibus carrying President Alberto Fernández on Saturday as he visited an area in Patagonia devastated by forest fires.

It was clear tensions were high when Fernández gave a press conference prior to the incident, in which he said he travelled to "listen to the people." Outside, as he spoke, demonstrators were protesting loudly.

But as the Frente de Todos leader left a community centre in the town of Lago Puelo in Chubut Province, the president had to take refuge behind a wall of people as a crowd of demonstrators pushed toward him and his delegation.

The protesters later stopped the bus carrying the president, punching and kicking it and throwing stones that broke windows in the vehicle, according to footage broadcast by the TN network and posted on the Clarín newspaper's website.

In the footage, Fernández was shown sitting on the bus as protesters banged on the windows. First Lady Fabiola Yáñez was also onboard.

With just a few police on hand, the crowd managed to halt the president's bus and other vehicles in his entourage for several minutes, with some protesters throwing themselves against the hood of the vehicle.

Once it was freed, several other vehicles snaked their way through the crowd and sped away with the presidential bus.

The reason for the attempted attack remains unclear. Clarín reported that the demonstrators were angry over mining projects in Chubut Province, and with the provincial governor Mariano Arcioni.

Fernández sought to downplay the violence, saying it was the work of a small number of people.

"I am sure that this violence was not taken part in by the people of Chubut nor by those who inhabit our beloved Argentina," he wrote.

The violence was swiftly condemned by a host of political figures, including opposition leaders Mauricio Macri, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, Fernando Iglesias and Diego Santilli.

The fires that have blazed through Patagonia for days, punishing regions close to several tourist spots, have claimed one life, while 11 other people are reported missing, officials said Friday.

Towns including Lago Puelo, El Bolsón, El Maitén, Epuyén, Futaleufú, El Hoyo and Las Golondrinas, all situated at the foot of the Andes mountains, have been severely affected.

Dozens of people have been evacuated from the path of the advancing flames, and some 200 houses have been destroyed. The government said some towns were left without water or power.

The fires, which authorities suspect were started deliberately early this week, have reached several towns near the foothills of the Andes mountains, and have consumed about 15,000 hectares (37,000 acres) of forest, media reported Saturday.

The charred body of a rural dweller, reported missing since Tuesday, was found near the town of El Maitén.

– TIMES/AFP

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