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Calm restored after Argentina protest turns violent

Rioters storm congress to protest austerity measures

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (CNN) -- Police in Buenos Aires, Argentina, used tear gas and rubber-coated bullets Saturday to disperse a crowd of protestors after rioters stormed the congress building to protest the country's worsening economic troubles.

At least a dozen people were wounded and police said they made 33 arrests. The streets of Buenos Aires were quiet Saturday afternoon.

The events began around midnight Friday, when 5,000 people congregated in front of the presidential palace to protest a five-days of bank closures and restrictions limiting monthly bank withdrawals to $1,000.

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The peaceful protest, which included pot-banging, also denounced the introduction of the new currency, the Argentino, which is to start circulating in January alongside the peso and the U.S. dollar.

During the protest, a small group of rioters began throwing stones at police. In one instance, a policeman in the nearby Plaza de Mayo was badly wounded after he was surrounded by three or four rioters who beat him and threw stones at his face.

Several other policemen were injured, some critically.

The violent protesters broke away from the group at the palace and ran to the congress building. On the way they looted a McDonald's restaurant and several banks, police said.

At the congress building, they broke down the doors and began tearing apart the interior, setting fire to curtains and furniture. Riot police responded and managed to disperse the crowd after several hours.

Argentina has been suffering an economic crisis that sent unemployment close to 20 percent and put the country on the brink of defaulting on $132 billion on its international debt. The crisis led to the collapse of the government of Fernando de la Rua this month.

Interim President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa was appointed Sunday by a joint session of congress. In his first action, he declared a moratorium on the national debt.

Rodriguez Saa's Cabinet offered to resign Saturday. There was no word whether Rodriguez Saa would accept the resignations.

The official parliamentary session finished last month, but lawmakers have been holding special meetings since then to deal with the critical situation in the country. The next parliamentary session was due to begin in January.

In a phone call on Saturday, President Bush urged the interim leader to "develop a sustainable economic working plan" by working with international financial institutions, said Scott McClellan, White House deputy press secretary.

Bush "reaffirmed the strong bilateral relationship and commitment to the people of Argentina," McClellan said.

-- Journalists Alberto Pando and Ernan Munoz contributed to this report.



 
 
 
 


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