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Argentine leader warns strikers

Argentina President Cristina Fernandez
President Fernandez is facing her biggest test since taking office

Argentina's president has said she will not negotiate with striking farmers until they end their protests over rising taxes on major export goods.

Cristina Fernandez said in a televised address that she would not talk "with a pistol pointed at the head".

The strike, now in its third week, has led to food shortages in shops and has also hit exports. Farmers' leaders have called for talks with the government.

The strike has also led to clashes in the capital Buenos Aires.

President Fernandez warned that "there can be no dialogue if the strike measures aren't lifted".

Nearly empty meat refrigerator in Buenos Aires on 26 March
Many shops and markets are reporting shortages
"Lift the strike and we'll talk," she said, adding that the protests were directed "not against the government, but against the people".

The president's comments came shortly after farmers' leaders had called for dialogue with the government.

The latest crisis was sparked by the government's decision to introduce a new sliding scale of export taxes, raising levies in some cases up to 45%.

President Fernandez says the taxes are a means to raise badly-needed revenue, curb inflation and guarantee domestic supplies.

Blockades

But farmers say the taxes are hitting them, and their communities, hard.

Truck driver argues with farmers blocking a road in Tandil, Argentina on 26 March
There have been angry scenes at some roadblocks

"Our profit margins are getting smaller and smaller," Marcelo Rasseto, a small farmer from Santa Fe province, told the BBC.

"What we pay to the state is not returned to us in the form, for example, of subsidies to buy fertilisers or to promote the social and educational development of our communities.

Protesters have been stopping lorries carrying farm produce and either turning them back or dumping their goods on the road.

Trade at grain and cattle markets has also been disrupted, while several suppliers of Argentine soya and soya oil to China have been unable to fulfil export contracts, industry officials told Reuters.

The farmers' action has also led to meat and dairy shortages in the shops.

There was a second night of demonstrations in Buenos Aires on Thursday, as hundreds rallied against the government.

Pro-government supporters also took to the streets and local media showed brawls between the rival groups.

Argentina, a leading exporter of beef, corn, soya oil and soybeans, has benefited from the recent global surge in commodity prices.


SEE ALSO
Argentine farm tax crisis worsens
27 Mar 08 |  Americas
Q&A: Argentina farm protests
27 Mar 08 |  Business
Argentina strike: Your views
27 Mar 08 |  Have Your Say
Argentine farm taxes row deepens
26 Mar 08 |  Americas
Argentina's divisions clear to see
26 Oct 07 |  Americas
Country profile: Argentina
12 Dec 07 |  Country profiles

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