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Bush Pledges Support to Argentina - 2002-01-18

Argentina's president says he will ease restrictions on bank withdrawals that have sparked angry street protests across the country. President Bush telephoned the Argentine leader Friday to express his support, amid the country's economic crisis.

White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said Friday Mr. Bush told President Eduardo Duhalde that the United States is ready to help Argentina, once it decides how to end four years of recession that have pushed unemployment rates above 18 percent.

"President Bush reaffirmed America's strong bilateral relations with Argentina," the spokesman said. "He stressed our commitment to the Argentine people and our heartfelt appreciation for the difficulties that the people of Argentina are facing. The president expressed his willingness to work with the Argentinean government, as it confronts their serious economic challenges."

Mr. Fleischer said President Bush told the Argentine leader that he will support the country through the International Monetary Fund, once it commits to what Mr. Fleischer called a "sound and sustainable" economic plan.

President Duhalde has told depositors they will now be able to withdraw up to $5,000. That is up from the $3,000 limit set last week. Street protesters in the capital, Buenos Aires, and other Argentinean cities have been calling for unrestricted access to their accounts.

Police are searching foreign-owned banks, investigating claims that some customers sent billions of dollars to international accounts, leaving Argentina's banks short of cash.