Argentina's Macri sides with taxis as Uber arrives in Buenos Aires

The logo of car-sharing service app Uber on a smartphone over a reserved lane for taxis in a street is seen in this photo illustration taken in Madrid on December 10, 2014. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina’s biggest city vowed to punish Uber Technologies Inc on Thursday for defying a ban and President Mauricio Macri showed solidarity with cab drivers as the ride-hailing company opened a new front in its battle with the taxi industry.

Uber’s launch in Buenos Aires this week met with widespread protests by drivers of the city’s black and yellow cabs, along with threats from officials, echoing resistance the U.S. company has faced in many of the more than 400 cities where it operates worldwide.

“We have already ordered the service to shut down,” said the city’s Transportation Secretary Juan José Méndez. “If they keep operating it becomes a criminal issue.”

Cab drivers and city officials accuse Uber of violating local regulations and risking passengers’ safety by offering rides with drivers who lack a taxi license. Uber said it was permitted under Argentine law.

“Uber continues to operate normally ... It has not been prohibited, suspended or shut down,” the company said in a statement on Thursday.

Macri, who was mayor of Buenos Aires before assuming the presidency in December, threw his weight behind the cab drivers.

“I support the city government’s position defending taxi drivers. They are a symbol of the city and of Argentina,” Macri told journalists.

($1 = 14.33 Argentine pesos)

Reporting by Walter Bianchi; writing and additional reporting by Brad Haynes; editing by Andrew Hay