Thousands protest in cities across Argentina pushing for 'food emergency' declaration

Protests in Buenos Aires on Feb 13, 2019. The banner reads: "We, the workers, will not kneel before the IMF (International Monetary Fund)." PHOTO: AFP

BUENOS AIRES (AFP) - Thousands took to the streets in 50 Argentine cities and towns on Wednesday (Feb 13) demanding that the government declare a "food emergency" and put an end to suffocating price increases.

"We are losing work, food, education, housing... It's desperation that is emerging among our people," said Mr Osvaldo Ulacio, 60, as he marched in the capital Buenos Aires.

Mr Diego Quintero, 29, added: "They have left us no other tool than to come out in the streets to fight for our rights."

Since President Mauricio Macri came to power in 2015, electricity bills have gone up 2.1 per cent and gas 3 per cent. The government blamed the increase on the removal of significant subsidies in place under the previous administration.

"In the neighborhoods, hunger has come back... It's the worst since the crisis in 2001," said Mr Daniel Menendez, one of the protest leaders in Buenos Aires, referring to the year of a major financial crash.

Another leader, Mr Juan Carlos Alderete, said: "The crisis is dramatic, with falling wages, factories and businesses closing, and soup kitchens full of people."

Argentina was gripped by an economic crisis last year that forced Mr Macri to agree to a US$56 billion (S$76 billion) bailout loan with the International Monetary Fund.

It was sparked by a fall in confidence in the currency, with the peso losing more than half its value against the dollar last year, while inflation finished 2018 at 47.6 per cent.

The country entered recession in December after the statistics bureau revealed the economy had diminished during the third quarter of 2018, the second quarter in a row it had done so.

The IMF predicts that gross domestic product will fall by 2.6 per cent this year.

This October, the South American country will go to the polls to elect a new president.

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