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Rise in Violent Crime Puts Argentina's Government on Alert - 2002-08-15

A rise in violent crime in Argentina has the government on alert. President Eduardo Duhalde is mulling options for fighting the upsurge in kidnappings and murder. One options could be calling out the military.

In Argentina this week, the economic crisis is taking a back seat to the security crisis, and the government is desperately searching for ways to fight the violence.

On Thursday, after a series of news-making murders and kidnappings, President Eduardo Duhalde held an emergency meeting with Felipe Solá, the governor of the Buenos Aires province.

That is where a 17-year-old boy was found murdered, floating face down in a pond.

And on the same day he was found, another man was shot to death in his car, sitting next to his three-year-old son.

There also have been more reported "express kidnappings" which usually last a few hours, until kidnappers collect ransom from the victim's relatives.

Mr. Duhalde and Mr. Solá said they discussed every possible crime fighting option.

There is talk of calling out the national guard or using armed military troops to patrol the streets. But government chief Alfredo Atanasof says taking the "correct" action is more important than simply taking action.

"I don't think it's a matter of being tough or soft, he said, it's important to be efficient when we fight these crimes," Mr. Atanasof said.

Critics have suggested the best way to begin the fight would be a battle against corruption.

In some cases, police officers themselves have been named as suspects.

A recent poll conducted by this country's justice department said 88 percent of Argentines fear they could become victims of crime.

It is a problem that gets worse as Argentina slides deeper into its record-breaking economic crisis.

Fifty percent of this country lives below the poverty line. And the jobless rate has reached an unprecedented 21.3 percent.