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Violent Protests In Buenos Aires Over Milei Reforms

Violent Protests In Buenos Aires Over Milei Reforms

Argentina’s Senate narrowly approved President Javier Milei’s controversial economic reform package, amid violent clashes between protesters and riot police outside Congress. Demonstrators in Buenos Aires, who believe the measures will harm millions of Argentines, threw petrol bombs and stones, setting cars on fire.

Several people were injured, and local media described the scene on Wednesday as resembling a “battlefield”. The reforms, aimed at revitalizing the country’s struggling economy, include declaring a state of economic emergency, reducing pensions, and weakening labor rights. Mr. Milei, a right-wing economist, was elected during a severe economic crisis, which he has been trying to address for six months in office.

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Argentina currently faces annual inflation close to 300%, with over half of its population living in poverty. Mr. Milei’s “shock” measures face opposition from leftist political parties, labor unions, and social organizations.

However, the motion, initially tied 36-36 in the Senate, was provisionally passed on Wednesday after Vice-President Victoria Villarruel, the head of the chamber, broke the tie. “For those Argentines who suffer, who wait, who do not want to see their children leave the country… my vote is affirmative,” Ms. Villaruel stated after breaking the tie.

The 328-article bill will now be examined point by point before its anticipated full approval on Thursday. Subsequently, it will return to the lower house for final approval.

Before the bill’s approval in the Senate, protesters chanted: “The country is not for sale, the country is defended,” while one banner questioned: “How can a head of state hate the state?” Scuffles erupted when protesters attempted to approach Congress through fences, with demonstrators hurling rocks at officers who responded by using pepper spray.

Observers and opposition MPs reported that several demonstrators and a few MPs required medical attention. Legislator Cecilia Moreau informed that at least five opposition MPs in the crowd were hospitalized.

Additionally, officials stated that at least 20 police officers were injured, and security forces reported 15 arrests. “We cannot believe that in Argentina we are discussing a law that will set us back 100 years,” said Fabio Nunez, a 55-year-old protesting lawyer, as quoted. President Milei’s office issued a statement expressing gratitude to the security forces for quelling what it described as “terrorists” attempting a coup d’état. “We are going to change Argentina; we are going to make it the most liberal country in the world,” Mr. Milei declared during a conference in Buenos Aires.

The deeply controversial bill was passed by the lower house in April following substantial amendments. Mr. Milei assumed office in 2023, promising to significantly reduce public spending. During his election campaign, he famously wielded a chainsaw during a speech to symbolize his commitment to this cause.

Since then, he has halved the cabinet, eliminated 50,000 public positions, halted new public works contracts, and removed fuel and transportation subsidies.