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Argentina considers crackdown on street protests
Argentine government in radical change proposes police crackdowns on street protests
By ALMUDENA CALATRAVA
Associated Press
2014-04-18 06:01 AM

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) -- Argentina's populist government is proposing a crackdown on street protests amid increasing unrest over the souring economy. The new rules dismayed many of its natural allies Thursday, who called it a worrisome retreat after a decade of permissive policing.

Governing party lawmaker Carlos Kunkel wrote the proposed law at the request of President Cristina Fernandez.

It would require every protest's leader to notify police 48 hours in advance, describing the place, duration and goal of any demonstration. It would be illegal to block traffic, including public services and the circulation of vehicles and people. Anyone who broke the rules would be forcibly removed.

However, the police officers doing the evicting would not be allowed to carry firearms, and no protesters would be removed until a government official was given two hours to negotiate a resolution.

"It seems reasonable to seek some way of establishing how you can demonstrate, and to see what we'll do with the criminal law that nobody applies, which says you have to put people who block traffic in jail," Kunkel said.

Conservative legislator Federico Pinedo worried that the governing block in Congress, which has enough votes to pass any measure, will let the president decide which protests are legal.

Lawmaker Nicolas del Cano of the Leftist Front expressed the same concern. "It's incredible that the progressives of the government now want to tell us which movement is legitimate and which isn't," he said.

Human rights activist Gaston Chillier called the proposal a step backward for a country still recovering from a bloody dictatorship and economic collapse, noting that police and security forces include people who participated in state terror and are still being investigated by the justice system. "It's a reversal with respect to the standards for social protest that took years to construct," he said.

Luis D'Elia, who leads the Land, Housing and Habitat Federation and is close to the government, called the measure "ugly and contradictory."

Rising social unrest over persistent inflation and a souring economy have led to many more street protests. Traffic in the capital can be snarled for hours by even small groups of demonstrators as police stand by and direct furious drivers onto side streets. In March alone, there were 656 street demonstrations, and with many of this year's union negotiations over pay increases unresolved, the number is likely to grow, said Patricio Giusto, an analyst with the Diagnostico Politico consulting firm.

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