Protest marches against Fernandez highlight strains in Argentina
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - An estimated 1 million Argentines marched on Thursday in one of the biggest anti-government protests in years, highlighting public anger over a deteriorating economy and President Cristina Fernandez's efforts to reform the media and courts.
The demonstration in the capital, Buenos Aires, was peaceful and appeared to be composed primarily of the middle class. Many banged pots and pans in a traditional Latin American form of protest, while others carried signs with slogans such as "Argentina, wake up!" and "Corrupt Cristina."
Several prominent opposition politicians joined the march, which was planned well in advance on social media. Two spokesmen for the Buenos Aires city government told Reuters the turnout in the capital was over 1 million.
Buenos Aires has long been a hotbed of opposition to Fernandez and her late husband, Nestor Kirchner, who between them have governed Argentina since 2003 - a decade marked mostly by strong economic growth and falling unemployment.
Yet Fernandez's popularity, while still high, has slid over the past year as voters criticize her for mismanaging the economy and what many see as an increasingly undemocratic governing style.
In interviews, protesters spoke as much of Fernandez's "arrogance" and "lies" as they did about pocketbook issues such as inflation, which is estimated at about 25 percent annually, one of the highest rates in the world.
"I took to the street because we live in a democracy that runs the risk of transforming into authoritarianism," said Carolina Salina, 24, a university student.
"This government doesn't want to listen. Every day, we become more like hostages and somehow we have to make this known."
Other, smaller marches occurred in cities and towns throughout the country.
Fernandez was not in Argentina during the protests, having flown to Peru for a regional summit aimed at supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro after this week's disputed election there.
One major lightning rod at the march was Fernandez's efforts to push through Congress a broad judicial reform, which some say would allow her to appoint more judges sympathetic to her agenda.
An association of bishops issued a statement this week warning the judicial reform could "weaken democracy." The Catholic Church's political views have become more prominent in Argentina since the former archbishop of Buenos Aires was named pope in March.
Fernandez has also been criticized for a media law that analysts say is designed primarily to weaken Grupo Clarin, a media empire that is harshly critical of her. Fernandez says the law is necessary because Clarin's cable TV and newspaper holdings are unfairly large.
Fernandez's term is set to end in 2015.
(Reporting by Brian Winter; Additional reporting by Alejandro Lifschitz; Editing by Peter Cooney)
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