February 5, 2002

Argentine president calls September 2003 elections

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) --President Eduardo Duhalde announced
Tuesday that national elections will be held in September 2003,and reiterated
that he does not intend to stand as a candidate.

"We are going to call presidential elections for the second Sunday in September
2003," Duhalde said in a radio address.

The Peronist veteran, completing the term of ousted President Fernando de la Rua,
said the country was so strapped for cash that he would order an abbreviated
one-month campaign leading up to the September 14 vote. He will also drastically
limit radio and television campaign spending.

Duhalde was appointed by Congress on January 2 after an unprecedented political
crisis, becoming the fifth president in just over two weeks. De la Rua resigned amid
deadly riots over the country's deep economic crisis.

"I am the president of the transition, the transition of change," Duhalde said
Tuesday, insisting he had the backing of the Peronists and the opposition Radicals.

The economic crisis, the worst in decades, triggered a default on $141 billion in
public debt, choked off factory production and consumer spending, and left 18
percent of the workforce idle.

Duhalde urged Argentines to remain calm while he tries to mend the economy and
quell simmering social unrest. Some 26 people were killed in December rioting.

He said that if public order is not maintained, "the next stop in Argentina's brutal slide
would mean anarchy, chaos."

About half of Argentina's population of 36 million now live in poverty.
Unemployment is above 18 percent after four withering years of recession, fueling
near daily protests around the country.

On Tuesday, more than 500 unemployed Argentines blocked a key boulevard
between Buenos Aires and its southern districts.

Meanwhile, the country braced for Wednesday's debut of a fully free-floating peso.

The peso was pegged at 1-to-1 with the U.S. dollar for more than a decade until a
January devaluation. Duhalde set the peso's official rate at 1.4 to the dollar for
exports and imports, but floated the peso on the open market for most ordinary

The peso has since lost nearly a third of its value on the open market, now trading at
about 1.95 per dollar.

In preparation, banks and currency houses were placed under a "banking holiday"
for a second day on Tuesday, which barred most financial and currency

Argentina must answer calls by the International Monetary Fund for a sustainable
economic plan and for a single, floating currency if it hopes for access to billions of
dollars in bailout aid. Local reports suggest Argentina will seek at least $15 billion in
international funds.

 Copyright 2002 The Associated Press.