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Argentines Strike as Government Tries to Secure IMF Loan - 2002-05-22

Argentine President Eduardo Duhalde is facing his first general strike against his government since taking office at the beginning of the year. The 12-hour strike comes as the Duhalde government is trying to meet the conditions for securing an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund to help pull the country out of its deep economic crisis.

A dissident faction of Argentina's powerful General Confederation of Workers called Wednesday's 12-hour strike to demand higher salaries and an end to government efforts to obtain an IMF loan.

Strike leaders warned that Argentina will suffer further hardships if it agrees to the IMF's conditions for obtaining the loan.

Strikers held a mass rally in downtown Buenos Aires to protest the government's policies. It was the first general strike in Argentina in the five months President Duhalde has been in office.

Wednesday's strike coincided with Mr. Duhalde returned to Buenos Aires from a trip to Europe, where he was told by various leaders that no aid or credits will be forthcoming until Argentina reaches an agreement with the IMF.

Foreign Minister Carlos Ruckauf told reporters Argentina has no choice but to comply. "This is clearly a form of pressure, but if Argentina does not have the guarantee that comes from an IMF loan countries will not trust us," he said. "Once a loan agreement is reached, countries will extend lines of credit to Argentina and begin buying its products."

The IMF has called on Argentina to come up with a sustainable economic recovery plan, which would include sharp spending cuts by the national government and the country's 23 provincial governments. However, some of the larger provinces are resisting making the cuts.

Argentina is struggling to emerge from a four-year recession that has left the country bankrupt, and millions of people unemployed.

Wednesday's general strike, which did not include public transportation workers, will not be the last. Another labor union, the CTA, has called for a general strike on May 29.