Argentinian government shaky as cabinet chief quits

 

Argentina's interim government appeared close to collapse yesterday as popular protests forced cabinet chief Mr Carlos Grosso to resign. The entire cabinet subsequently offered its resignation, yet to be accepted, as frustration grew over the deepening economic crisis.

President Adolfo Rodr∅guez Saa, appointed by Congress last week to replace Mr Fernando de la Rua, spent the weekend trying to piece together an administration that might survive the 60-day period before fresh elections are held.

Violence continued over the weekend as a retired police officer shot dead three youths on Saturday after they aired criticism of the role of security forces in recent events. On Friday evening protesters pounded on the doors of the presidential palace, while others broke into Congress, where they dragged out furniture and started fires.

Minutes earlier the guards protecting the building were ordered to abandon the area, sowing doubts that "provocateurs" had been used to manufacture an incident to justify repression and dissuade citizens from joining the mass spontaneous protests.

As furniture was pulled onto the streets the police returned, firing rubber bullets at the crowds gathered outside, many of them families with small children.

There were calls for a national mobilisation today to oust the interim president, criticised for appointing discredited politicians to run his cabinet and failing to end bank curbs which have left millions of people without cash.

President Rodriguez Saa had pinned hopes of economic recovery on a proposed new currency, the "argentino", which now looks set to be withdrawn before it even begins circulation.

Treasury Minister Mr Rodolfo Frigeri told economists on Saturday that there was a "tight consensus" against the argentino which would be "born devalued" and could lead to hyperinflation.

President Rodriguez Saa is hampered by disputes within his Peronist party, divided by rival aspirations in advance of upcoming presidential elections. The political atmosphere has been further poisoned by rumours that he intends to cancel those elections and hold onto power until 2003.

An hour of pot-banging late last Friday was sufficient to convince cabinet chief Mr Carlos Grosso that resignation was the better part of valour. A former mayor of Buenos Aires, Mr Grosso abandoned politics a decade ago after 38 cases of corruption were filed against him.