* Rank-and-file officers demand higher wages
* Argentine inflation clocked at over 20 percent per year
* Massive protests against gov't economic policy last month
By Hugh Bronstein and Guido Nejamkis
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 3 Argentina's coast guard and
military police held unprecedented wage protests on Wednesday,
prompting the government to fire the heads of both services
while Congress called for an orderly resolution of the dispute.
Strikes over wages are common in Argentina, where inflation
is running at more than 20 percent annually, according to
But this was the first time in memory that uniformed
Argentine military forces have taken to the streets over wages.
Talks aimed at ending the dispute reached late into the night.
"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 olive green-clad
officers chanted slogans in solidarity.
"We are workers, 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.
The protests started on Tuesday when officers demonstrated
against an administrative measure that cut some of their pay
checks by up to 70 percent. The strike soon morphed into a
demand for higher wages generally.
The government promised to revise the measure that sparked
the protest. Cabinet Chief Juan Manuel Abal Medina said violence
would not be tolerated and Congress issued a statement calling
on the striking officers to conduct the protests "within the
confines of democracy."
The officers assured the country that basic coast guard and
military police duties, particularly at border crossings,
continued to be carried out despite the protests.
INFLATION UP, POPULARITY DOWN
Buenos Aires provincial Governor Daniel Scioli issued a
statement calling for calm. "It's time to reflect, go back to
work and to the sensitive responsibilities that have been
entrusted to you as members of our security forces," it said.
President Christina Fernandez's popularity sank to 24.3
percent in September from 30 percent in August.
A year ago, just before winning her second term, she had
64.1 percent popularity while campaigning on a promise to expand
on the policy model of her late husband and predecessor, Nestor
Kirchner, who increased the government's role in the economy.
After winning re-election in October, Fernandez imposed new
currency controls to stem capital flight and the investment
climate also took a hit when her government seized a majority
stake in the country's No. 1 energy company YPF.
With the economy of the grains-exporting country hampered by
fallout from Europe's debt crisis, slow demand from key trade
partner Brazil and low soy output caused by a December-January
drought, Argentines are increasingly worried about inflation. So
disputes over wages are likely to continue.
Tens of thousands from all walks of life rallied in major
cities last month to protest policies such as the de facto ban
on buying foreign currency and a possible bid to overhaul the
constitution so Fernandez can run for a third term.