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Saturday, 26 January, 2002, 06:49 GMT
Argentines march against bank curbs
Protesters bang pots and pans in Buenos Aires
The demonstrations started peacefully
Police in Buenos Aires have fired teargas and rubber bullets to disperse Argentines who had taken to the streets in protest at banking restrictions imposed to try and salvage the country's crippled economy.

Government House in the Plaza de la Maya
There were protests outside the presidency

The demonstration, which was echoed in major cities across the country, was the biggest since new President Eduardo Duhalde came to office three weeks ago, adding to pressure on his government to find a way out of the crisis.

Protests began peacefully, with people ranging from middle class professionals to the unemployed banging pots and pans and jangling their keys in an almost carnival-like demonstration.

But as the march petered out around midnight in pouring rain, police fired on the 1,000 or so who remained in the Plaza de Mayo, fighting running battles with the protesters.

At least 10 police officers and three people in the crowd were reported to be injured. At least a dozen people were arrested, witnesses said.

Public frustration

The protest was the latest outburst of public anger that has seen the demise of four presidents in two months as successive governments try to find a cure for the country's economic plight.

But the BBC's correspondent in the city, Peter Greste, said that although the march ended badly, it was nowhere near as vitriolic as previous demonstrations, which had erupted into violence and anger at political leaders.

Protests and looting in December left 27 people dead and forced the resignation of President Fernando de la Rua.

Banking freeze

Friday's demonstration was organised to demand an end to the freeze on savings accounts which has been imposed to prevent a run on the banks.

Unemployed demonstrators outside a supermarket in Buenos Aires
Demonstrators blockaded supermarkets, calling for food
It has left millions of Argentines short of money and compounds a four-year recession and unemployment at 20%.

Protesters also wanted members of the Supreme Court - who approved the restrictions - to resign.

But the government says it has no choice but to continue with the measures.

Duhalde torn

The protest was a sign of the unpopularity of the monetary policy adopted by President Duhalde.

Since he took office on 2 January he has refused to lift the banking freeze and has let the peso devalue by more than 30%.

Moreover, he has reneged on a promise that savings made in dollars can be recouped in dollars, saying there are simply not enough dollars in the banking system.

The president is torn between demands from a public that wants access to its savings, and fears that relaxing the rules would trigger a run on the banks that could cripple the country's financial system.

The BBC's Peter Greste
"Eduardo Duhalde is feeling the pressure"
See also:

17 Jan 02 | Business
Argentina receives debt lifeline
15 Jan 02 | Americas
Fresh protests grip Argentina
15 Jan 02 | Business
Argentina 'to float currency freely'
14 Jan 02 | Business
Argentina seeks IMF olive branch
20 Dec 01 | Americas
The night Argentina said 'enough'
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