- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 26, 2002

BUENOS AIRES Argentine riot police firing tear gas clashed with dozens of demonstrators in the capital late yesterday, marring what was a peaceful but noisy nationwide protest against economic-austerity measures.
The violence flared after thousands of peaceful demonstrators had already left the downtown Plaza de Mayo, fronting the government palace. Police fired tear gas as shirtless youths ran about the square under a driving rain.
The protesters blocked highways and crowded into plazas in a nationwide outburst of discontent, demonstrating against a banking freeze and the country's persistent economic crisis.
President Eduardo Duhalde's government said it would strengthen security to prevent the kind of street violence and rioting that toppled the country's last elected government in December and left 26 persons dead.
The raucous pan-beating protest flared up in various neighborhoods in Buenos Aires and cities throughout Argentina.
The actions yesterday were the first major protests against Mr. Duhalde's 3-week-old caretaker government, marking a major challenge for the unpopular steps he has taken to try to improve the economy.
In advance of the protest, workers moved quickly to throw up sheet metal to cover the fronts of dozens of foreign-owned banks in downtown Buenos Aires, worried about renewed attacks against banks and ATM machines.
Interior Minister Rodolfo Gabrielli said police were on alert and warned protesters to be peaceful. "We are going to be inflexible with violent lawbreakers," he said.
Since taking office Jan. 2, Mr. Duhalde has devalued the peso by more than 30 percent and further tightened a widely despised banking freeze that has locked most Argentines' savings into bank accounts.
For weeks, Argentines have waited in block-long lines outside banks trying to take out savings. There have been scattered protests, including violent outbursts in which demonstrators have shattered bank windows and firebombed a politician's home.
In yesterday's protest, neighborhood leaders from several districts around Buenos Aires led marchers to the main downtown square, the Plaza de Mayo, the focal point of the widespread unrest that led to the Dec. 20 resignation of President Fernando de la Rua.
During the day, demonstrators blocked a key bridge on a highway leading to the southern suburbs of Buenos Aires. In another part of the capital, a crowd of some 100 people from a poor neighborhood went to a supermarket and shouted for food, but the store shuttered its gates.
At two other supermarkets in the Buenos Aires area, requests for food were peacefully delivered by neighborhood groups.
Scuffling and brawling broke out when unemployed Argentines demanding jobs marched in Guaymallen in the western province of Mendoza. gentine Research.

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