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Argentina Focus Shifts to Process of Choosing Presidential Successor - 2001-12-21

Following the resignation of Argentine President Fernando de la Rua Thursday, attention now focuses on the Congressional process to choose his successor. Mr. de la Rua resigned amid widespread protests against his government.

Argentina's Senate and Chamber of Deputies hold a special joint session on Friday to officially accept Mr. de la Rua's resignation and designate his successor.

Mr. de la Rua submitted his resignation in a hand-written letter Thursday, after failing to persuade the opposition Peronist party to form a government of national unity. He resigned in the midst of widespread rioting and protests over his economic policies. On Wednesday, Mr. de la Rua declared a state of siege to quell the incidents of supermarket lootings that had broken out in Buenos Aires and other major Argentine cities by hordes of hungry and desperate people. But the move failed, and the violence continued.

Argentina is mired in a recession that has lasted almost four years, and which has impoverished up to a third of the country's 36 million people. Mr. de la Rua, who took office two years ago, was unable to bring about an economic recovery, despite implementing eight different economic plans. Instead, the country's situation grew increasingly worse, and it now faces a possible default on payments of its $132 billion debt.

Mr. de la Rua's immediate successor will be Senate President Ramon Puerta of the opposition Peronist party, because Argentina has no sitting vice president, following his resignation last year. So, under the constitution, the Senate president now becomes interim president. But Mr. Puerta has said he constitutionally cannot hold office for more than 48 hours.

Legal experts say this means the legislature of 72 Senators and 257 deputies will have to choose someone to serve out the remaining two years of Mr. de la Rua's term. This person could be either a member of the legislature or one of Argentina's 24 provincial governors. However, constitutional experts say the Congress could call for immediate elections.

In the meantime, Buenos Aires and other cities are reported to be calm following the disturbances of recent days. Argentina's Central Bank has declared a bank holiday for Friday, telling financial institutions they can only open to pay salaries and pensions for government workers.