Page last updated at 09:54 GMT, Wednesday, 2 April 2008 10:54 UK

Fernandez slams Argentine farmers

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez delivers a speech at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires
The president called on the farmers to end their strike immediately

Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez has attacked the country's farmers for continuing their three-week-long strike.

Farm workers have been on strike for three weeks, blockading roads in protest at tax increases on soya.

Thousands of people took to the streets of Buenos Aires on Tuesday to show their support for the president.

Ms Fernandez says the export tax rises will help curb fast-rising domestic food prices.

At Tuesday's rally, she emphasised that the farmers' pressure tactics would not work, asking angrily: "Is it good that highways are cut so that food cannot be transported to market?"

The blockades have strangled the flow of farm good to cities, causing acute shortages of meat, milk and fresh produce across Argentina.

The president told 20,000 supporters - including trade unionists and human rights activists - that farmers had imposed food shortages on Argentina in February 1976, a month before a military coup which she called "our nation's worst tragedy".

Food shortages

"Don't do more harm to the people, lift the roadblocks so Argentines can get food," she said.

Ms Fernandez has said the higher taxes on soy exports will help control rising inflation on domestic food goods.

Supporters demonstrate in favour of Argentina's government during a political rally at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires,
20,000 supporters of the president gathered in Buenos Aires

Argentina is one of the world's top exporters of soya, wheat and beef, and any prolonged conflict will have a major effect on vital export earnings, says the BBC's Daniel Schweimler in Buenos Aires.

The farmers' strike is the biggest crisis faced by Ms Fernandez since she took office more than three months ago, succeeding her husband Nestor Kirchner, our correspondent adds.

As well as last month's presidential decree which raised export taxes on soybeans from 35% to 45%, the government has also been using taxes on grain and commodity exports to boost state revenues.

But trade at Argentina's largest grain and cattle markets has ground to a halt, while many shops are reporting shortages of supplies of beef and chicken, diary goods and fruit and vegetables.

The march comes a week after thousands of middle-class Argentines banged pots and pans along the capital's streets in support of the farmers' protest.

Farm groups said they would make an announcement responding to the president's speech on Wednesday, the day on which they have said they are announcing whether to extend the strike.

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President Fernandez's speech

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