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Argentines take to streets to protest utility rate hikes

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Thousands of Argentines took to the streets on Thursday night to protest a sharp spike in gas and electricity rates imposed by the government, as President Mauricio Macri continued to cut subsidies that had ballooned under his predecessor.

Since taking office in December 2015, Macri has gradually unwound the subsidies in a bid to reduce the budget deficit. But that has fueled inflation, making consumer price rises harder to contain than initially expected.

Both opposition lawmakers and allies argued this week that small businesses and residential users would be unable to keep up with spiraling utility prices.

Protesters holding candles -- a show of solidarity with those who may no longer be able to afford to light their homes with electricity -- approached the country’s Congress in Buenos Aires after dark, calling for price increases to be over-turned.

“Enough with the rate hikes!” read a banner carried by a protestor.

Shares in Argentine utilities tumbled earlier today as political opposition to cuts in subsidies for gas and electricity consumption mounted, but the stocks pared losses after a lawmaker clarified future pricing policies.

Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Writing by Dave Sherwood; Editing by Sandra Maler