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by Felipe Rojas
Friday, May. 31, 2002 at 12:28 AM
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (Reuters) - Protesters blocked highways, while many teachers and state workers stayed home on Wednesday as Argentina's third-largest union led a 24-hour strike in the latest protest over President Eduardo Duhalde's handling of a devastating four-year recession.
May 29, 2002
Argentines Block Roads, Strike Over Poor Economy
Filed at 8:09 p.m. ET
Demonstrators wearing hoods burned U.S. flags and tires, causing traffic problems in Buenos Aires and elsewhere in Argentina, to demand wage increases after the country's worst economic crisis left many families unable to pay for basic goods like flour and cooking oil.
The strike delayed many flights at Argentina's airports, union officials said. Many universities canceled classes, while a parallel transportation strike over rising diesel prices led to a 2002 low in activity at Argentina's main livestock market.
Organizers said the strike was a success, but some union officials said the number of teachers joining protests was less than expected. Much business went on as usual in this agricultural-rich country of 36 million people.
Argentina has been hit by almost daily street protests and several large nationwide strikes this year after the government devalued the peso currency, leading to spiraling inflation that has eaten into wages. Industry is at a virtual standstill.
A recent study showed a quarter of Argentine children go hungry and over half the country lives in poverty in what is Latin America's third-biggest economy.
Protests over the recession turned violent in December, killing 27 and forcing two presidents to resign. Duhalde is struggling to avoid a similar fate.
Several thousand leftist protesters exploding fireworks and waving flags gathered outside the presidential palace late on Wednesday for a rally against the government.
``This action is to mark a national rebellion against the hunger and unemployment that we Argentines are living with today,'' said Victor de Gennaro, head of the Center of Argentine Workers, the smallest of Argentina's three major unions.
Price increases of about 70 percent in basic consumer goods since January's botched devaluation have hit hard as salaries in the public and private sectors have been frozen or cut in recent months.
Nearly one in four of the active work force is unemployed.
Several organized groups of unemployed also joined the strike, saying Argentina should break off talks for aid with the International Monetary Fund.
Duhalde has said an increase in salaries could send inflation soaring out of control.
``This government is working to normalize the situation of the country,'' Cabinet chief Alfredo Atanasof told reporters. ''But there are others that are working against us, trying to create chaos.''
In an effort to curb rising unemployment, Argentina's government on Wednesday extended a decree prohibiting companies from firing workers without cause for 180 days unless they are paid double the normal severance.
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