Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Post-crisis Argentina takes aim at crime

Robberies, kidnappings up after 2001-2002 economic trouble

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentine authorities announced a plan Wednesday to restructure the federal police force and appoint civilian commissioners by the end of the year, part of a national crime-fighting effort.

The plan released by Justice Minister Gustavo Beliz was headed to Congress for further study along with a host of other measures ordered this week by President Nestor Kirchner to rein in rampant crime.

The move to appoint civilian police commissioners was widely seen as an effort toward attacking police corruption.

Among other steps, the program called for more probation officers to monitor those completing sentences outside prison and for moves to allow heavier penalties for youthful offenders, including minors 14 years or older accused of violent crimes.

It also calls for new provisions against money laundering and a greater use of jury trials.

Opinion polls suggest rising crime and public insecurity are a chief concern among Argentines. More than 130,000 people marched earlier this month on Congress to demand stiffer penalties against criminals.

This country of 36 million people has suffered a spasm of violent street robberies, bank holdups, carjackings and ransom kidnappings in the aftermath of its 2001-2002 economic crisis.

Some 131 kidnapping cases have been reported in the past eight months in the greater Buenos Aires metropolitan area. In 84 of those cases, a ransom was paid, and most of the victims were freed unharmed, save one fatality.

One kidnapping victim, 23-year-old university student Axel Blumberg, was killed in mid-March, and his father has been leading demonstrations to demand tougher anti-crime measures.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.