Tens of thousands march in Argentina against Macri's austerity

LIMA (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Argentines marched through Buenos Aires on Thursday carrying torches, in the first of a series of planned protests against President Mauricio Macri’s austerity program and the soaring cost of public services.

Macri slashed subsidies for public utilities and other services to reduce the country’s chronic fiscal deficit, pushing electricity and gas rates up more 2,000 percent since the start of his term, according to estimates by local media.

Rates are expected to increase even more this year.

“People can’t make ends meet. All the measures taken by the government go against workers,” Pablo Moyano, a leader of a union of truck drivers, said during the protest.

Weekly demonstrations are planned through early February, increasing pressure on Macri to solve the country’s economic crisis ahead of a presidential election late this year.

Last year, when the economy contracted, inflation neared 50 percent and the peso lost close to 50 percent of its value, Macri reached an unpopular deal with the IMF for a $57 billion lifeline in exchange for a commitment to cut the deficit.

The protesters on Thursday, who witnesses estimated numbered at least 20,000, carried effigies of Macri and signs that read “Enough of the Macri/IMF austerity program” as they marched past the city’s obelisk monument toward Congress.

A union of truck drivers and a federation of workers’ unions organized the protests. Members of leftist political parties and independent Argentines have joined in.

Reporting By Nicolas Misculin and Reuters TV; Writing By Mitra Taj; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall