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Sunday, 30 December, 2001, 06:34 GMT
Honeymoon over for Argentine leader
Protesters outside a government building in Buenos Aires
Protesters accused cabinet members of corruption
Argentine interim President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa is considering whether to accept the resignation of his entire cabinet, in office for less than a week, after renewed protests about the collapsing economy.

The ministers' offer came during an emergency session convened after police used tear gas and water canon early on Saturday to disperse thousands of angry protesters in the capital, Buenos Aires.

Mr Rodriguez Saa, who appealed for calm, has been holding talks with the heads of the country's banks, and with regional governors, while he decides what action to take.

Interim  President Adolfo Rodriguez Saa
Mr Rodriguez Saa has asked Argentines to be patient
He has urged banks to remain open for extended hours on Monday, to enable customers to withdraw salaries and pensions.

The interim government was appointed after 27 people died in riots which forced the resignation of former President Fernando de la Rua.

Many of the protesters believe that several senior members of the cabinet are responsible for the economic crisis, and are calling for their removal.

The BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Buenos Aires says the mass resignation will give Mr Rodriguez Saa space to manoeuvre, allowing him to choose whether to sack the least popular ministers.

He adds that some analysts believe the president may replace them with the regional governors.

Argentina's economic woes
Public foreign debts of $132bn
Unemployment at 18%
Economy in recession for four years
Savers only allowed to withdraw $1,000 a month in cash
2,000 people drop below poverty line each day
Pensions to 1.4m retirees delayed
The US President, George W Bush, telephoned Mr Rodriguez Saa to urge him to work closely with the International Monetary Fund and other financial institutions to develop "a sustainable economic plan".

The caretaker president's top adviser, Carlos Grosso, was singled out in Friday's protests, for alleged corruption during a stint as Mayor of Buenos Aires under former President Carlos Menem. Mr Grosso stepped down on Saturday.

The latest violence flared at the edges of a large, noisy rally in the Plaza de Mayo square.

Twelve policemen were injured and 33 people were arrested as protesters ransacked shops, banks and a McDonalds restaurant.

Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators, some of whom set fire to railway carriages and broke into the Congress building, smashing furniture and burning curtains.

Cash curbs

As well as protesting against corruption, the demonstrators railed against curbs on cash withdrawals of more than 1,000 pesos ($1,000) a months from banks.

The new administration eased the policy on Friday, but did not abandon it.

We want a new political system without corruption - and they go and name all these corrupt politicians to the new government

Protester Diego Fumagalli
Employment minister Oraldo Britos said the banks did not have sufficient funds to ease the current restrictions.

With continued fears that the currency will eventually be devalued or that the government will seize money held in banks, many account holders fear they will lose their savings.

"I put my money in the bank for them to look after it - not to be stolen," read one protester's banner.

The interim Peronist government has already announced new measures to control the economic crisis.

Mr Rodriguez Saa has suspended repayments on the country's $132bn debt, announced plans to create one million jobs and promised to introduce a new currency, the Argentino, in the hope of boosting consumer-spending.

'Populist' solution

Some analysts say the new populist government has been searching for quick solutions to placate a population which has been plunged from a relatively wealthy society into economic chaos.

Lawyer Diego Fumagalli, 45, protesting at the Plaza de Mayo, said the new administration had misread last week's unrest.

"The message was that we want a new political system without corruption, and then they go and name all these corrupt politicians to the new government," he said.

The BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Buenos Aires
"Some feel the President is looking to increase his own power base"
See also:

27 Dec 01 | Business
Argentine leader promises new jobs
25 Dec 01 | Americas
Argentine jobs programme begins
23 Dec 01 | Business
Argentina default impact limited
23 Dec 01 | Americas
Argentina to halt debt payments
21 Dec 01 | Business
Bush backs IMF austerity measures
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