Argentina leader condemns farmers

President accuses striking farmers of extortion amid signs of food shortages.

    Farmers have blocked roads across the country in protest at the increased taxes [Reuters]

    Argentina's president has hit out at striking farmers in a televised national address, accusing them of "extortion" as they step up protests at increased export taxes.
     
    Cristina Kirchner's address on Tuesday came amid reports of food shortages as the impact of the two-week strike continued to grow.
     
    "I'm not going to submit to extortion. I understand the industry's interests, but I want them to know that I'm the president for all Argentines," she said.
     
    Eduardo Buzzi, a famers leader, had said earlier that agricultural leaders had agreed to "continue this strike for as long as necessary."
     
    Riot police have been called in to protect
    food trucks [Reuters]
    Trade at the country's biggest grain and cattle markets has ground to a halt since the strike began on March 13 and supplies of meat and some dairy products in food shops were reported to be low.
     
    Farmers have blocked roads with tractors and grain shipments have been virtually paralysed during the protest.
     
    Strike leaders say the protest will continue until the government drops new export taxes, which substantially raise levies on soya and sunflower products.
     
    Roberto Bunge, a farmer at a protest in Gualeguanchu, northwest of Buenos Aires, told Al Jazeera that they were prepared to continue their protest "indefinitely."
     
    "Nowhere in the rest of the world are income taxes as high as they are in Argentina and farmers are fed up."
     
    Road blockades
     
    Argentina's economic woes

    Although a nation rich in natural resources, Argentina's 39.5 million strong population has suffered in recent decades from several economic crises

    Fiscal deficits, high inflation and mounting debts culminated in 2001's economic crisis, which sparked protests, currency devaluation and debt defaults

    Sixty per cent of Argentinians were also pushed below the poverty line

    Country's main exports include soybeans, corn, wheat, petroleum, gas and vehicles

    Inflation is currently in double figures and farmers say recent tax increases on goods such as soybeans, sunflower oil and beef by up to 45 per cent to boost revenues will cripple their livelihoods

    Data source: CIA World Factbook

    The conflict is the biggest crisis faced so far by Kirchner since she took over the presidency in December, and marks a deterioration in relations with farmers who have criticised measures such as export bans and price controls.
     
    Consumer and retail groups say reports of bare shelves at supermarkets and grocery stores were increasing as the strike dragged on.
     
    The strike also weakened the value of the peso, the Argentinian currency, due to fewer inflows of US dollars from agricultural exports.
     
    Farmers have carried out road blockades on a regular basis and, in some areas, frustrated truck drivers have begun clearing motorway barricades themselves.
     
    The demonstrators have been letting trucks pass as long as they are not carrying farm goods.
     
    Farmers at roadblocks have handed out pamphlets, saying the new export taxes "take [money] from rural communities, from our shop owners and our industries."
     
    "With this money there could be more investment, more jobs and a better future for everyone," the pamphlets add.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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