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Argentina's New President Calls for National Unity


Argentina's new President Eduardo Duhalde has pledged to form a government of national unity, and change the country's free-market economic model. Mr. Duhalde made the promises late Tuesday after being elected President by Congress.

The vote by lawmakers to elect Mr. Duhalde President came as no surprise, since he was nominated by the Peronist party, which controls both houses of Congress. The 60-year old former governor and veteran Peronist leader will serve out the remaining two-year term of ex-President Fernando de la Rua, who resigned late last month in the face of widespread protests and rioting over his economic policies.

Mr. Duhalde, who ran against Mr. de la Rua in the 1999 Presidential election and lost, vowed Tuesday to abandon the policies of an economic model which he said has ruined many Argentines. "My commitment is to finish with an exhausted economic model that has brought desperation to the Argentine people and to create a new model to revive production and promote a more equitable distribution of wealth," he says.

The new Argentine leader went on to say that his country is bankrupt, and in no condition to continue payments on its huge foreign debt. He also promised Argentines worried about the future of their overvalued currency, that they will not lose their dollar deposits in banks. Those with dollar deposits will get back their dollars, he said, and those with peso deposits will get back pesos.

It was the restrictions on bank withdrawals imposed by the former de la Rua government to prevent a run on the banks that angered many middle-class Argentines, causing them to take to the streets in protests..

Mr. Duhalde, a former Vice President and twice governor of Buenos Aires province, becomes Argentina's fifth President, including two temporary caretakers, in less than two weeks.

After Mr. de la Rua resigned on December 20th, a special session of Congress chose a Peronist party provincial governor, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa, as interim President to preside over the country until elections could be held in March. But he resigned on Sunday, after losing support from his party in the wake of anti-government street protests on Friday.

Mr. Duhalde, who will be sworn-in as President Wednesday, will have to deal with the same problems that brought down his predecessors over the past two weeks. Argentina, once the most prosperous nation in Latin America, is in the midst of grueling recession that has lasted almost four years and shows no sign of ending soon.

Eighteen percent of the country's 14-million workers are unemployed, and up to a third of Argentina's 36-million people are poverty stricken. Its currency, pegged one-to-one to the U.S. dollar since 1991, is widely considered to be overvalued, and Argentina is burdened with a massive public debt of $132 billion.

Following his acceptance speech, Mr. Duhalde told reporters details of how he will deal with some of these issues will be unveiled by his economic team on Friday. In the meantime, he called for national unity and pledged to work hard to resolve his country's economic crisis.

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