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Chaos Erupts in Buenos Aires as Senate Narrowly Backs Milei's Contentious Reforms

Thursday 13 June 2024 - 13:10
Chaos Erupts in Buenos Aires as Senate Narrowly Backs Milei's Contentious Reforms

The streets of Buenos Aires erupted into chaos as Argentina's Senate narrowly approved President Javier Milei's controversial economic reform package. The vote took place amidst violent clashes between protesters and riot police outside Congress. Demonstrators, who argue that the measures will harm millions of Argentines, threw petrol bombs and stones, setting cars ablaze in what local media described as a scene resembling a battlefield on Wednesday.

Numerous injuries were reported. Observers and opposition MPs stated that dozens of demonstrators and a few MPs received medical attention. At least five opposition MPs were hospitalized, according to Cecilia Moreau, a legislator who spoke to AFP news agency. Additionally, officials confirmed that at least 20 police officers sustained injuries, and security forces arrested 15 individuals.

The reforms, aimed at reviving Argentina's faltering economy, include declaring a state of economic emergency, cutting pensions, and diluting labor rights. Milei, a right-wing economist elected amid a deep economic crisis, has struggled to reverse the tide after six months in office. Annual inflation has soared close to 300%, with over half of Argentines now living in poverty.

Milei's "shock" measures faced opposition from leftist political parties, labor unions, and social organizations. Initially deadlocked at 36-36 in the Senate, the motion was narrowly passed on Wednesday after Vice-President Victoria Villarruel broke the tie, stating, "For those Argentines who suffer, who wait, who do not want to see their children leave the country... my vote is affirmative."

The 328-article bill will now undergo a point-by-point review before its expected final approval on Thursday. It will then return to the lower house for confirmation.

As the bill neared passage in the Senate, protesters chanted, "The country is not for sale, the country is defended," while one banner defiantly proclaimed, "How can a head of state hate the state?" Scuffles broke out as demonstrators tried to breach fences and advance towards Congress, prompting security forces to use pepper spray in response to the rock-throwing protesters.

Fabio Nunez, a 55-year-old protesting lawyer, was quoted by AFP as saying, "We cannot believe that in Argentina we are discussing a law that will set us back 100 years."

President Milei's office issued a statement thanking 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," Milei declared at a conference in Buenos Aires.

The highly divisive bill was approved by the lower house in April, albeit with significant amendments. Milei took office in 2023 after promising to drastically cut public spending, a pledge he symbolically reinforced by wielding a chainsaw during a campaign speech. Since assuming office, he has halved the cabinet, eliminated 50,000 public jobs, suspended new public works contracts, and removed fuel and transport subsidies.

As the dust settles on the chaotic scenes in Buenos Aires, the fate of Milei's contentious reforms now hangs in the balance. The nation waits anxiously as it prepares for the far-reaching implications of these measures on the lives of millions of Argentines.

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