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Argentina's New President Calls for Unity - 2002-01-15

Two weeks after both houses of Congress named him president, Argentina's Eduardo Duhalde has called on his fellow citizens to unite behind the country in a show of unity. Mr. Duhalde urged all Argentines to come together to rebuild the Nation.

Monday night's speech was a call for Argentina's business class, labor unions, scientific and artistic communities to come together in a national dialogue aimed at restoring stability and prosperity to the struggling nation.

With the Catholic Church as a host, the president urged Argentines to put aside their differences and work towards the elimination of poverty, joblessness, corruption and violence.

The United Nations Development Program says it will provide whatever assistance it can to improve social conditions and human rights in Argentina.

Two days of violent looting and protests in December left 28 Argentines dead, 4,500 arrested and thousands of businesses destroyed. The Catholic Church has warned that if poverty and hunger in Argentina is not addressed soon, there may be more social unrest.

In fact, Monday there were violent confrontations in the outskirts of Buenos Aires between day laborers at the Central Market and unemployed protesters demanding food. One protester was seriously injured.

The call for national unity comes as Argentina suffers through its 44th month of a draining recession and soaring poverty rates. Mr. Duhalde is trying to work with international lenders to get some type of financial assistance, but given that Argentina defaulted on its $141 billion public debt, not many are stepping forward.

A team from the International Monetary Fund arrived Monday in Buenos Aires to review the country's finances although they denied talk they would approve fresh funding. The IMF reportedly now would like to see Argentina abandon the dual exchange rate implemented Jan. 6 in favor of one that floats freely. The IMF also wants the severe bank limits put in place by former President De La Rua eliminated.

The bank limits have triggered three massive protests led largely by Argentina's middle class that brought down Mr. De La Rua and an interim president.