- The Washington Times - Friday, December 21, 2001

BUENOS AIRES Argentine President Fernando de la Rua resigned yesterday after two years in power, as his government crumbled amid deadly rioting and looting sparked by anger over the nation's deepening economic crisis.
The resignation followed two days of clashes between police and protesters that left at least 22 persons dead and scores injured.
Yesterday, police battled hundreds of demonstrators in the streets of Argentina's capital, while looters ransacked homes and supermarkets nationwide.
Mr. de la Rua called it quits after a last-minute effort to cobble together a government of "national unity" with the opposition Peronista Party encountered resistance.
His decision must be approved by Congress before taking effect, officials said. Senate President Ramon Puerta was expected to be named interim president when the resignation is finalized.
According to an Argentine official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Mr. de la Rua had signed his resignation letter late yesterday afternoon.
Earlier yesterday, the president sent police to quell the violence as deaths mounted across the country in two days of rioting. The upheaval was touched off by the government's failure to end a punishing recession marked by double-digit joblessness, hunger and rising poverty.
Authorities arrested more than 2,000 people nationwide, including 350 in the capital, Buenos Aires. One man was dragged by his hair, while others were carried kicking and shouting to police vans.
Mr. de la Rua's decision to step down came just hours after his economy minister, Domingo Cavallo, quit. Television reports said the entire Cabinet had offered to resign.
Mr. de la Rua went on national television yesterday and invited the opposition Peronista Party to join him in a government of "national unity."
"We are in a critical situation," he said. "I share the anguish of our people. Only a government of national unity can lift our country up."
He said he was open to changes in economic and social policies to restore peace and defend the country's democratic institutions.
While he was pleading for unity, protesters in Buenos Aires fought pitched rock-throwing skirmishes with riot officers, who swung truncheons, charged at the crowd on horseback and fired round after round of tear gas. Water cannons roared across the Plaza de Mayo, directing their jets against scrambling demonstrators, who then counterattacked. Many demonstrators called for the departure of Mr. de la Rua.
"Get out, get out," the angry crowd shouted over helmeted riot police defending the Casa Rosada, or presidential palace, where the president was reported to be holding emergency meetings.
Defying a state of siege imposed Wednesday by the government, the crowds stood up to hours of rubber bullets, water cannon and repeated charges by cavalry.
The battles raged for hours as white clouds of tear gas wafted over the palm-lined plaza of the elegant European-style capital whose central boulevards dawned grimy and gray, littered by rocks and smoldering trash fires.
The grassy Plaza de Mayo, the downtown square fronting the Casa Rosada, has long been the stage for national protests against the austerity measures taken by the de la Rua government to end the spiraling economic crisis.
The unrest spread across the nation of 37 million, with looters attacking supermarkets in major cities and ransacking homes. Eight of those killed were in outlying provinces, and many died of gunshot wounds.
Fourteen persons died yesterday and the others were killed Wednesday. The dead included a 15-year-old boy shot yesterday during disturbances in western Santa Fe province, as well as people reportedly shot by merchants defending their stores.
In the Buenos Aires suburb of Quilmes, a 23-year-old man was fatally shot during a pre-dawn supermarket raid by looters. In southern Rio Negro province, a 46-year-old woman was fatally shot during confrontations between police and supermarket raiders.
The anger was sparked by four years of bitter recession that has exhausted the country and left it staring at a possible default on its $132 billion public debt. Unemployment last month reached more than 18 percent, and industrial production has plummeted.

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