Argentina in farm protest threat

Justice minister says roadblocks set by striking farmers could be removed by force.

    Argentina's farmers have vowed to continue their protest [AFP]

    Argentina's government has said it will use force to clear roadblocks set by farmers angered by new taxes they say will cripple their livelihoods, as protests continued for the second week across the country.

    "If they don't move, we'll move them ourselves," Anibal Fernandez, Argentina's justice minister, told local television, referring to blockades which have prevented trucks carrying food supplies from reaching shops.

    The threat comes as thousands of people rallied against the government in noisy protests on Wednesday, banging pots and pans as the strike led to shortages in supplies of meat and dairy products in supermarkets.

    There were reports of scuffles between supporters of the farmers, many of whom come from Argentina's more wealthy middle class, and activists supporting the government.

    Cristina Kirchner, the Argentine president, has refused to ease new export taxes on soybeans and other crops and has accused the protesters of "extortion".

    Vows to continue

    Argentina's economic woes

    Although rich in natural resources, Argentina's 39.5 million people has suffered in several economic crises in recent decades

    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

    Source: CIA World Factbook

    The taxes, of up to 45 per cent, were imposed on a range of goods including soybeans, sunflower oil and beef in a bid to boost state revenue at a time of exceptionally high commodity prices and to curb high inflation in the country.

    Farmers in Argentina, the world's largest soybean exporter, say the taxes have hit them hard.

    "This woman [Kirchner] has to realise that we have had enough of stealing, enough of looting," farmer Uduardo Benavente told Reuters news agency.

    "We have suffered looting for many years and here is the pot that has been witness to it."

    However the government says the export taxes were aimed at redistributing wealth in a country where nearly one-quarter of people are poor.

    Farm leaders have vowed to continue the strike for as long as necessary, demanding that the government repeal the taxes.

    "We're not afraid. We're staying here indefinitely," Alfredo de Angelis, a local leader of one farm group, told Reuters while at a road blockade in Argentina's Entre Rios province.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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