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Argentines Protest Economic Conditions Again - 2002-01-26

Tens of thousands of Argentines staged noisy pot-banging demonstrations throughout the country late Friday to protest against the conditions that have brought the country to the brink of economic collapse. The focal point of Friday's demonstrations was Buenos Aires, where thousands marched on the Presidential Palace to show their discontent.

Thousands of demonstrators banging pots and pans converged on the Plaza de Mayo late Friday and massed in the front of the ornate pink building that serves as the Presidential Palace. Waving blue and white Argentine flags, many called for the ouster of the country's politicians whom they blame for bringing about Argentina's economic crisis. "They should all go" was a common slogan on many banners.

One of the marchers, Claudia Sureda, said she came to show her disgust with the current situation and with her country's leaders. "Every day the situation is getting worse, and every day we thought we had reached the bottom, so I can't foresee what will happen," she said. "But this is a popular demonstration and it's a guarantee because it sets a limit to all this corrupted political class that has been ravaging the country."

This was the first large nationwide demonstration against President Eduardo Duhalde, who took office just over three weeks ago following bloody riots and protests that toppled two Presidents in late December.

Mr. Duhalde inherited a virtually bankrupt nation in the midst of a recession that has lasted almost four years. The Argentine leader has devalued the currency, which had been tied to the dollar at a one-to-one rate since 1991. He also has maintained many of the restrictions on bank withdrawals imposed in early December to prevent a collapse of the banking system.

Many of the protesters Friday called for an end to these restrictions and demanded relief from the effects caused by the devaluation of the peso by more than 30 percent. Security was tight around the Presidential Palace Friday, and police were deployed in many of the streets leading to the Plaza to prevent the kind of violence and looting that broke out during protests last month.

Banks and other stores near the palace put up sheets of plywood to protect their windows from being broken as happened in December when militant protesters went on a rampage of breaking bank windows and automatic teller machines, and looting stores.

Friday's protest in the Plaza de Mayo was largely peaceful. Some demonstrators even carried signs warning against violence. Most of the demonstrators went home following a heavy rainfall late in the night local time but after the rain stopped, trouble broke out. Police in riot gear fired tear gas at small bands of young protestors who had begun throwing rocks and molotov cocktails. The police then moved into the Plaza in force, and cleared the area.