Page last updated at 03:04 GMT, Friday, 21 November 2008

Argentine pension takeover passed

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner
The law's passage is seen as a victory for President Fernandez's government

Argentina's Senate has approved a bill to nationalise private pension schemes worth at least $23bn (15.6bn).

The law was passed by the lower house of Congress earlier this month, in what was seen as a win for the government.

President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner had said the move would protect the funds in the face of the global economic crisis.

But the plan faced tough opposition from those who called it a cynical ploy to loot pensioners' money.

The Senate voted 46 to 18 with one abstention to approve the measure after nearly 12 hours of debate.

A senator from the ruling Peronist party, Miguel Pichetto, said the measure would "bring stability to financial markets and the investments pension funds have in local companies".

Debt payment

The BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Buenos Aires says many had expected it to be a much tougher battle, following noisy demonstrations both for and against the bill.

The pension funds are the latest in a long line of industries to be nationalised by the Argentine government in recent years, our correspondent adds - the postal service, the railways and the water works have all been returned to state control.

The pension funds have lost nearly 20% of their worth in the past year, the government has said.

But critics of the nationalisation say the funds could be used to pay the country's debt.

Argentina owes a debt payment next year of about $20bn (13.5bn) and there are concerns over the country's ability to meet it.

The takeover means the government becomes a big institutional investor, holding shares in some of Argentina's biggest companies.

The vote is a much-needed political victory for Ms Fernandez, who lost a bitter row earlier this year with farmers over plans to raise taxes on soybean exports.

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