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Wednesday, 8 August, 2001, 18:19 GMT 19:19 UK
Argentines protest against pay cuts
Thousands of demonstrators convene in Buenos Aires
Thousands of demonstrators convene in Buenos Aires
Argentina's state workers have marched through the capital of Buenos Aires, at the peak of a two-day strike and rallies across the country.

Public teachers, civil servants, university students and thousands of unemployed people convened in parks and intersections before a mass rally at the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the presidential office in the capital.

President Fernando De la Rua
President Fernando De la Rua cut salaries by 13%
The massive 48-hour strike was called to protest against President Fernando De la Rua's decision to cut government salaries and pensions by 13%, in an effort to prevent the country defaulting on its debts and to allay concerns of a possible currency devaluation.

The austerity measures were approved by the Argentine senate late on Monday.

The rallies came amid news of efforts by the government to receive more emergency cash from the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF has already recommended speeding up an agreed $1.2bn loan for Argentina.

And Argentina's Treasury Secretary, Jorge Baldrich, has been quoted as saying that the government is negotiating between $6bn and $9bn in aid from the IMF.

The people are all affected by these cutbacks and by exclusion, misery and poverty - nobody escapes

Marta Maffei
Head of CTERA
The government hopes the measures will help erase a $1.5bn deficit forecast for this year, and reassure investors that Argentina will be able to pay back $130bn of debt.

The country's largest union of civil servants, the CTA, threatened to paralyse the public sector with the strike, bringing schools, hospitals and state-run offices to a halt.

The demonstrators held up banners decrying the austerity plan, known in Spanish as the "ajuste", as they marched.

"They're always cutting back on us, on those who suffer. They never hit the multinational bankers and those that have made lots of money in the last few years," said Christian Valcalda, 26, who works for a government agricultural agency.

Argentines praying
The faithful pray for work in Buenos Aires
"We need jobs, not spending cuts," said 27-year-old Anibal Espinolda, who has worked odd jobs as a carpenter for more than a year while struggling to find full-time work.

"We are all in the same situation," said Marta Maffei, head of the Argentine Confederation of Education Workers (CTERA), which is part of CTA.

"The people are all affected by these cutbacks and by exclusion, misery and poverty. Nobody escapes."

On Tuesday, Up to 100,000 Argentines gathered at the church of San Cayetano in Buenos Aires to pray for jobs.

Speaking at the church dedicated to San Cayetano, the patron saint of work and bread, Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio spoke of the contrast between "poor people who are persecuted for demanding work, and rich people who are applauded for fleeing from justice".

Official unemployment figures for Argentina, Latin America's third largest economy, show that more than 16% are out of work.

The BBC's Lourdes Heredia
"A third of the population is living in poverty"
See also:

05 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Argentines pray for work
04 Aug 01 | Business
IMF speeds up cash for Argentina
20 Jul 01 | Business
General strike paralyses Argentina
19 Jul 01 | Business
Argentina's corporate bail-out
13 Jul 01 | Business
Argentina minister appeals for calm
12 Jul 01 | Business
Argentina debt sparks foreign fears
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