Argentine coast guard, military police hold rare strike

BUENOS AIRES Wed Oct 3, 2012 6:15pm EDT

1 of 5. Argentine officers from the National Gendarmerie (military police) shout during a protest outside their headquarters in Buenos Aires October 3, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Enrique Marcarian

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina fired its chief coast guard and military police officials on Wednesday after an unprecedented two-day protest by rank-and-file officers demanding better wages.

Pay strikes are common in Argentina, where inflation is more than 20 percent annually, according to private economists. But this was the first time in memory that uniformed Argentine military forces have protested over wages.

"We support democracy. This is not a political uprising. It's nothing strange," military police officer Fernando Parodi shouted into a bullhorn at a rally in front of military police headquarters in Buenos Aires, where hundreds of fellow officers chanted slogans in solidarity.

"We are working, like any others, who need to support our families," Parodi said.

The top leaders of Argentina's military police and coast guard were replaced by the government earlier in the day.

With the economy stumbling under the weight of government-imposed currency and import controls, President Cristina Fernandez's popularity sank to 24.3 percent in September from 30 percent in August.

A year ago, just before winning her second term, Fernandez had 64.1 percent popularity while campaigning on promises of expanding the interventionist policy model of her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner.

But with the economy hampered by government controls, fallout from Europe's debt crisis and lower demand from key trade partner Brazil, Argentines are increasingly worried about inflation and rising crime.

(Reporting By Hugh Bronstein and Guido Nejamkis; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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