National strike paralyses Argentina, halting flights and ports

Protesters in recession-torn country rally against budget austerity plans advanced by Macri's government.

    A man walks past ticket machines at Retiro train station in Buenos Aires during the one-day national strike [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]
    A man walks past ticket machines at Retiro train station in Buenos Aires during the one-day national strike [Agustin Marcarian/Reuters]

    A nationwide strike in Argentina calling attention to austerity measures under President Mauricio Macri has shuttered the country's airports and stopped work at grain ports in Rosario, one of the most important agro-industrial regions in the world.

    In a sign of increasing tension within the recession-hit nation, the country's main unions organised Wednesday's labour action.

    Centre-right leader Macri has been tumbling in the polls ahead of presidential elections in October, as his popularity with Argentine voters has taken a major hit due to job losses, high inflation and a troubled currency.

    With many schools, offices, banks and transportation lines closed down, streets in central Buenos Aires were eerily quiet in the morning ahead of expected demonstrations sparked by the powerful CGT umbrella union.

    In a video posted online, the union said it had gone on strike to force change in government policy as "the economic and social situation was getting worse day by day and inflation was destroying the purchasing power of people's wages".

    Closely tied to the Peronist political opposition, the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) is demanding the government reduce the tax burden borne by workers and implement salary increases that match high inflation. Prices in Argentina are up more than 50 percent over the last year.

    The protests are also targeting the rise in fees for services - the result of government efforts to cut the deficit under a financing deal with the International Monetary Fund, and a measure that has caused poverty levels to rise.

    The economic crisis has damaged Macri's re-election chances, with the recently announced Peronist pairing of Alberto Fernandez and ex-President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner ahead of the president in polls.

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency