BUENOS AIRES, April 6 Argentines protesting
against government austerity measures and demanding higher wages
brought the country to a standstill on Thursday as labor unions
challenged President Mauricio Macri in the first general strike
since he took office 16 months ago.
Truck and bus drivers, teachers, factory workers, airport
employees and the government customs agents who run Argentina's
all-important grains export sector walked off the job at
midnight for 24 hours.
Security forces pushed back and forth with picketers who had
blocked the Pan-American Highway, the main road leading from the
north to capital city Buenos Aires, where normally bustling
streets were half-empty and businesses were closed.
Marches were held around the country, with picketers
carrying signs and shouting.
"No customs officials are here, so there will be no exports
or imports today," said Guillermo Wade, manager of the maritime
chamber at Argentina's main grain hub of Rosario. The country is
the world's top exporter of soymeal livestock feed and the
third-largest supplier of soybeans.
Macri, a proponent of free markets, took office in December
2015. He eliminated currency and trade controls and cut
government spending, including gas subsidies, a move that
sparked steep increases in home heating bills.
Protesters are also clamoring for wage increases in line
with inflation, which was clocked at 40 percent last year and is
expected at about 20 percent 2017.
"The situation is dramatic," Julio Piumato, a spokesman for
labor umbrella group CGT, said in a telephone interview.
"Wealth is being concentrated in the hands of a few at the
same rate that poverty is growing," he said. "Urgent measures
are needed to create employment. One out of every three
Argentines is poor."
A poll last month showed that for the first time since Macri
took office, more Argentines disapprove than approve of his
He was elected after more than a decade of populist rule
left Argentina with rampant inflation, dwindling central bank
reserves and a wide fiscal deficit.
(Additonal reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Editing by Lisa Von