Argentina's Fernandez faces her first general strike

Tue Nov 20, 2012 6:00pm EST
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By Alejandro Lifschitz and Nicolás Misculin

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Opposition trade unions protesting Argentina's economic policies brought public transportation and the country's crucial grain exports to a halt on Tuesday in the first general strike since President Cristina Fernandez took office five years ago.

Demonstrators burned tires to block roads and vandalized a handful of the businesses that opened despite the 24-hour work stoppage called by bus drivers, train conductors and port, airline and bank workers. They rallied in places including Plaza de Mayo in front of the presidential palace in Buenos Aires.

The general strike - the first to hit Argentina in a decade - follows broad protests held on November 8 over high crime, soaring inflation and the government's policy response.

Farmers also joined the protest led by Hugo Moyano, a gruff former truck driver once closely linked to Fernandez but now a leading opposition figure. He wants lower taxes for workers whose purchasing power has been drained by galloping inflation.

"The silence of the streets, the absence of people in the streets, in the shops, in the businesses - this is the voice that the government must hear," Moyano told reporters, vowing to keep pressing the demands of his CGT labor federation.

Fernandez's popularity has tumbled since she easily won re-election last year. Inflation is running at about 25 percent despite a sputtering economy, according to private economists. The government publishes much lower inflation data long dismissed by the markets as inaccurate.

The strike increases the stakes in the political battle between Moyano and Fernandez, who condemned the strike and said she would not be swayed on policy.

"Today wasn't a strike. It wasn't even a picket. This was about strong-arm tactics and threats," she told supporters at a rally. "We cannot bow to extortion."   Continued...

A placard that reads "A minimum $ 5,000 wage" is seen while demonstrators block the Pueyrredon Bridge, during a one-day nationwide strike in Buenos Aires November 20, 2012. REUTERS/Enrique Marcarian