BY BILL CORMIER
BUENOS AIRES -- Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas
Friday to disperse
thousands of jobless workers who had blocked a federal highway for 10 days to
protest welfare cuts.
At least 23 police and 22 protesters were injured, and a truck
driver died of an
apparent heart attack as police broke up the protest, news agencies reported.
The disturbance, in the northern province of Salta, highlighted
the plight of the
cash-strapped interior, where tax increases and austerity measures imposed by
President Fernando De la Rua have done little to reduce unemployment that far
exceeds the 14 percent national jobless rate.
More than 1,000 police, some on horseback and others with dogs,
before dawn on the demonstrators, the Noticias Argentinas news agency said.
They had taken over a section of National Route 34, about 1,100 miles northwest
of Buenos Aires, on May 1 to protest welfare reductions and demand the creation
of 1,600 new jobs in the province. The road is a major trade route with Bolivia.
Television showed clouds of tear gas as police fired rubber bullets
behind shields while demonstrators threw rocks and sticks.
The demonstrators then surged into the city of General Mosconi,
setting fire to
the town hall and breaking windows in public buildings in the city of 20,000
It was the latest in a string of protests around the country challenging
president. Other laid-off workers protested peacefully this week in the city of
Cutral Co, 640 miles southwest of Buenos Aires.
Interior Minister Federico Storani expressed concern that the
were charging tolls and threatening people traveling the road.
Storani called the demand for increased welfare payments ``unacceptable.''
The violence came a day after Congress passed a labor reform bill
weeks of protests by angry union groups. The government says the bill will
stimulate Argentina's economy by giving employers greater flexibility to set wages
and create jobs.
Labor leaders say the new law will hurt workers and do nothing
Copyright 2000 Miami Herald