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Nationwide strikes paralyze Argentina

Demonstrators clashed with police in Buenos Aires as the city came to an utter standstill during a 24-hour general strike. Workers feel that the free market policies of President Macri have exacerbated income inequality.

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Argentina: Clashes between police and protesters

Clashes broke out between protesters and police in Argentina on Thursday as labor unions began a general strike to challenge the economic policies of President Mauricio Macri. Since taking office at the end of 2015, the Argentine leader has been accused of being aggressively pro-business at the expense of the nation's poor.

At midnight Thursday, bankers, factory employees, airport workers, teachers, truck and bus drivers, and customs agents who manage the country's incredibly lucrative grain exports all walked off the job for 24 hours. Many businesses in the capital Buenos Aires remained closed and usually busy streets were largely empty as protesters poured onto the Pan-American highway leading north out of the capital.

The strike had significant impact at Buenos Aires' Ezeiza international airport. The action interfered with 800 flights, affecting some 60,000 passengers. The airport was effectively shut down. 

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"The situation is dramatic," said Julio Piumato, who represents CGT, an umbrella group for the unions. "Wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a few at the same rate that poverty is growing," he said. "Urgent measures are needed to create employment. One out of every three Argentines is poor."

As the protests gathered steam, police used water cannons and tear gas on demonstrators who refused to stop blocking the highway.

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Macri fails to deliver

The strike came at the same time that President Macri was hosting hundreds of foreign dignitaries and would-be investors from abroad at the World Economic Forum. Since taking office, Macri has significantly cut government spending including gas subsidies that helped the poor with their heating bills. He has also eliminated a number of trade regulations as part of his ardent support of free market policies. His campaign promises of major foreign investment have yet to materialize.

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Protesters were also demanding better wages as they have not been raised to keep up with Argentina's runaway inflation, a result of more than a decade of left-wing populist rule. The inflation rate was a staggering 40 percent annually in 2016 and is looking to rise another 20 percent this year.

Recently, opinion polls have turned clearly against Macri for the first time since he took office. In October, his administration will face the first major test of its success when Argentina votes in congressional elections.

es, kbd/kl (dpa, Reuters)

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