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Thursday, 22 November, 2001, 06:57 GMT
Argentina at odds over Menem's release
Former president Carlos Menem and his wife Cecilia Bolocco of Chile at their house in Buenos Aires on Tuesday
Mr Menem was freed from house arrest on Tuesday
By the BBC's Lourdes Heredia in Buenos Aires

Just a few weeks ago posters dotted around run-down neighbourhoods in Buenos Aires boldly predicted Mr Menem's return to power.

It was going to happen. It is not a surprise

Argentine voter
That prospect moved a step closer on Wednesday when the former Argentine president announced he would run for the post again.

A day earlier he had been released from five months of house arrest imposed over an arms-smuggling scandal to Croatia and Ecuador in the early 1990s.

Mr Menem's supporters have been celebrating wildly ever since the Supreme Court said there was insufficient evidence in the case.

They insist the ex-president is the only one able to save the country from its economic crisis.

Carlos Menem with brother Eduardo, centre, and nephew Adrian, right while the former president was under house arrest
Mr Menem is accused of accumulating vast wealth
But many voters received news of Mr Menem's release with apathy.

In the cafes, they watched the former president's movements on television without emotion.

"It was going to happen. It is not a surprise," answers one regular, whose view is representative of most of them when asked about their feelings.

They seem unwilling to talk about it.

Most of the people are not even interested in pondering whether his release was a deal made behind closed doors between politicians.

Instead they are more worried about losing their job or making ends meet in the current financial crisis gripping the country.

Corruption claims

Polls indicate that Mr Menem does not have wide popular support these days because of persistent accusations of corruption.

There are accusations that he amassed huge personal wealth which allowed him to build a luxury mansion and mountain refuge in his home province of La Rioja.

The recession which began in the last two years of his second term also does not help his case.

Nevertheless, he should not been written off and in Argentina nobody denies his political acumen.

He has strong support in some provinces and people confronted with a bleak future feel nostalgic for the early 1990s when the country was prospering under Mr Menem's control.

Freedom leaves the former president in a position to reassert his role as Argentina's main opposition leader at a time when President Fernando De la Rua is growing increasingly unpopular for his handling of the economic crisis.

See also:

21 Nov 01 | Americas
Menem freed from house arrest
31 Oct 01 | Business
Argentina plays down default fears
15 Oct 01 | Americas
Poll rebuke for Argentine president
10 Sep 01 | Americas
Swiss find no Menem bank accounts
05 Aug 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Argentines pray for work
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