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Thursday, 20 December, 2001, 11:04 GMT
The night Argentina said 'enough'
Demonstrators gather outside Government House to bang pots and pans in protest
Many Argentines blame their politicians for the crisis
Argentina's desperate economic crisis has been long in the making, but the violence and the serious political ramifications it provoked came suddenly.

During the day on Wednesday, the country saw some of the worst rioting in a decade as the government's austerity measures continued to bite.

We're fed up with corruption, hunger and the poverty we're living in

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse looters near the capital, Buenos Aires, as people prised open shops and carted away everything they could.

Unrest also spread to other parts of the country. But speaking at an impromptu news conference at midday on Wednesday, President Fernando de la Rua dismissed rumours that he was going to declare a state of siege because of growing social tensions.

A few hours later, the whole picture had changed.

Cabinet convenes

With looters continuing to ransack shops, Mr de la Rua called an emergency cabinet meeting during the afternoon to discuss options to cope with the crisis.

As ministers met, there were reports of a death in the unrest. The owner of a supermarket in the town of Villa Florito, south of Buenos Aires, stabbed a man trying to loot his store.

Crisis unfolds
Wednesday AM: Widespread looting
Wednesday PM:
Emergency cabinet session declares state of emergency
Cavallo stripped of special powers by Congress
President de la Rua addresses nation
State of emergency comes into force
Protests intensify
Cavallo resigns
Thursday AM:
Thousands still demonstrated
He would be one of at least seven people to die in the violence.

Back in Buenos Aires, Mr de la Rua and his ministers decided to declare a state of emergency giving them special powers to stop the looting and rioting.

From then, the pace of events increased.

The opposition-dominated Congress voted to repeal emergency powers given to Economy Minister Domingo Cavallo to tackle the recession.

These had included placing limits on bank withdrawals and halting pension payments - measures that fuelled discontent, especially in poorer areas.

Protesters defiant

On Wednesday evening, President de la Rua made a televised address to the nation to announce the 30-day state of emergency, which includes a ban on public meetings.

He blamed the riots on "enemies of the Republic" and called for cooperation to pull the country out of crisis.

But as the emergency measures took effect at midnight (0300 GMT on Thursday), tens of thousands of people, banging pots and pans to highlight their anger, went onto the streets of Buenos Aires in defiance.

Cavallo out

There were running battles between demonstrators and police, and some rioters set fire to part of the economy ministry.

I can't get any work. I have four children. I can't feed them. I am ashamed to be Argentine

A short while later, with demonstrators outside the presidential palace and outside his own residence, Domingo Cavallo offered his resignation as economy minister.

By early Thursday morning, Mr de la Rua had accepted Mr Cavallo's resignation, the official Telam news agency reported.

The economy minister brought in to help improve the country's parlous finances only last March was gone.

But Mr de la Rua's, and Argentina's, troubles remain.

See also:

14 Dec 01 | Business
Argentina meets debt deadline
13 Dec 01 | Americas
Argentina delays pension payments
10 Dec 01 | Business
Argentina in new bid to cut debts
09 Dec 01 | Business
Argentina fails to win IMF reprieve
20 Dec 01 | Business
Who next in Argentina after Cavallo?
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