- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 20, 2001

From combined dispatches
BUENOS AIRES Argentine President Fenando de la Rua declared a state of siege yesterday, giving him special powers to stop an outbreak of looting and riots sparked by austerity measures and poverty.
At least five persons were killed and 100 injured in a day of violence.
Mr. de la Rua defended his decree in a nationally televised address, saying it was needed to quell unrest that convulsed much of the capital, Buenos Aires, and many of Argentina's largest cities.
Government officials, who asked not to be named, said the state of siege had been imposed after dozens of supermarkets were ransacked in Buenos Aires and in the provinces in riots that started last weekend but snowballed yesterday.
The political opposition separately called a special debate in Congress to try to repeal emergency economic measures taken by Mr. de la Rua and Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo to try to end a four-year recession and avoid a run on Argentina's banks, as well as currency devaluation and debt default.
Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse looters who ransacked stores in the capital and northeast Argentina yesterday in some of the worst rioting in a decade. Dozens of supermarkets and shops were sacked in suburbs of Buenos Aires and the northern Entre Rios province as hundreds of Argentines smashed shop windows and stole items including toilet paper, televisions, food and clothing.
Police in riot gear guarded many other supermarkets stocked for Christmas as troubles mounted for Mr. de la Rua, struggling to head off a four-year recession, 18.3 percent unemployment and the biggest sovereign debt default ever.
Five police officers were injured in the worst civil unrest since food riots helped topple President Raul Alfonsin in 1989. In many other raids on stores, police stood by idly, hands behind their backs, and watched as looters ran out of shops laden with goods, witnesses said.
Some supermarkets handed out food packages in an effort to stop looting by gathering crowds.
"I feel bad about it, but we're dying of hunger," said Sonia Aristici, carrying food taken from a supermarket on Buenos Aires' outskirts. Stinging tear gas hung in the humid, hot summer air where looters gathered.
In Cordoba, the country's second-biggest city, police fired rubber bullets at municipal workers protesting unpaid wages. There were running battles as employees chanted slogans and choking tear gas filled municipal offices.
Buenos Aires' city center was mostly quiet, but banks reinforced security amid reports that protesters were approaching. Few other incidents were reported in most provinces of the South American country of 36 million people.
The center-left Mr. de la Rua, rock bottom in polls midway into his four-year term, ordered $7 million in food aid to be distributed to try to calm the unrest.
In a sign of growing impatience with Mr. de la Rua, some protesters chanted and threw eggs and a paving stone at the president as he left a meeting in the city center. The paving stone hit the roof of his limousine.
In the northeastern Entre Rios province, vastly outnumbered security forces watched helplessly as hundreds of looters fled with goods, shielded by smoke billowing from burning tires.
"Here we go, Buenos Aires. There you go, de la Rua," some chanted as they held up stolen goods for the cameras.
Television showed shops littered with boxes and glass and some shopkeepers weeping. A few managers in suits and ties tried to defend one supermarket with wooden hockey sticks.
Argentina is a pale shadow of the confident nation whose economy grew by half in the 1990s to become the center of the Internet revolution in Latin America. Its once-strong middle class also has been impoverished in the crisis.
Among the protesters were many who claimed they were poor, unemployed and hungry, including mothers with children, but there were also unidentified "agitators," said a government spokesman.
One man could be seen fleeing and balancing a stolen television on his bicycle, while another waved a beefsteak in the air. Others arrived at the scene with rucksacks on their backs ready to be filled.
Some protesters said they had been shot with rubber bullets. No arrests were reported.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide