Argentine violence leaves two dead
BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
BUENOS AIRES - Two demonstrators were killed and more than 90
other people were injured as protesters tried to block access routes to
this capital in
the most violent confrontations since the December street protest that toppled Argentina's last popularly elected president.
Officials of President Eduardo Duhalde's beleaguered government
conceded that Wednesday's violence -- in which 173 people were arrested
-- marked a
serious setback for the government. There also were other demonstrations around the country.
In recent weeks, the government had succeeded in negotiating with protesters to prevent demonstrations from turning violent, they said.
''We have not had one single wounded since Dec. 20,'' presidential
spokesman Eduardo Amadeo said, referring to the night Fernando de la Rúa
forced out of power by street riots that killed 27 people. ``But today the protesters refused to talk with us, so we didn't have anyone to negotiate with.''
Amadeo said the government had intelligence information that
the protesters were planning to ''choke the city'' by cutting-off all access
roads, and they
were planning widespread acts of violence, including destruction of store windows and businesses. ''We decided that we would not let them cut off the
city,'' he said.
The demonstrations took place as Argentina's Economy Minister
Roberto Lavagna was in Washington, D.C., trying to obtain emergency loans
desperately needs to revert its worst financial crisis in memory. Officials said Lavagna had made significant progress in his talks.
Wednesday's protests began when several hundred demonstrators,
many carrying banners and chanting slogans criticizing the government and
International Monetary Fund, blockaded a bridge that connects Buenos Aires with the southern industrial suburb of Avellaneda. As police and national
guardsmen advanced to dislodge them, the protesters, some armed with slingshots and gasoline bombs, fled, smashing shop windows, overturning cars
and burning a bus.
Spokesmen for a local hospital said the two victims were both
men in their early 20s who had died of gunshot wounds. Masked protesters
had fired on them from rooftops and the streets, but police Commissioner Mario Migin said his men were armed only with nightsticks and weapons that
fired plastic bullets and tear gas canisters.
Protesters were members of several leftist-anarchist groups.
Police sources said the protesters were led by the most violent group called
Rodríguez, named after a woman who died in a previous street protest.
This report was supplemented with Herald wire services.