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Tuesday, 4 June, 2002, 01:57 GMT 02:57 UK
Uruguay attacks Argentine 'thieves'
Jorge Batlle
Batlle: "All spontaneous combustion"

Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle has caused diplomatic uproar by describing neighbouring Argentines as a bunch of thieves.

The president made the remarks in an interview broadcast widely in Argentina.

He went on to say that his Argentine counterpart, Eduardo Duhalde, had no political power and no idea of where he was taking the country.

President Duhalde has called a meeting with President Batlle for later on Tuesday to discuss the matter.

'Corruption'

It is not often that world leaders get as frank as this in public.


The problem with the Argentines is that they are a bunch of thieves from start to finish - you know the amount of corruption in Argentina

Jorge Batlle
Pounding the table, Mr Batlle told his interviewer that Argentines were "a bunch of thieves from start to finish".

"You know the amount of corruption in Argentina," he said.

The interview recorded for the Bloomberg news agency was intended to focus on the impact of Argentina's dramatic economic crisis on its tiny north-eastern neighbour.

Uruguay's economy depends heavily on banking and tourism from Argentina, and both industries have all but dried up under the weight of the crash.

The interview began staidly enough, but when it ended, Mr Batlle offered to say a little more.

That is when he broke into his angry tirade, attacking not just Argentines in general, but President Eduardo Duhalde in person.

"With Duhalde, I can't suggest anything," the Uruguayan leader said. "He doesn't have political strength, he doesn't have backing and he doesn't know where he's headed."

'Full support'

The remarks were repeated time and again on local television and radio in Argentina.

Although it is not clear if Mr Batlle knew the impact the interview would have, he hastily called a news conference to insist that he is committed to fully supporting Argentina's government in its moment of crisis.

He also told reporters that sometimes he gets carried away.

"Some people here say I'm all spontaneous combustion," he admitted.

BBC News Online explains how Argentina suffered the near-collapse of its economy

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01 Jun 02 | Business
07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
21 Mar 02 | Americas
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