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ARGENTINA | 02-02-2024 08:54

Police battle protesters outside Congress as omnibus bill debate extends to Friday

Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on Thursday to disperse protesters gathered outside Congress as lawmakers debated the Javier Milei's sweeping reform package.

Riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas on Thursday to disperse protesters gathered outside Congress as lawmakers debated President Javier Milei's controversial sweeping economic, social and political reform package.

Thousands of people have gathered in front of the National Congress building this week in repudiation of the government's ‘omnibus’ mega-reform bill. As lawmakers debated the proposed legislation in the lower house Chamber of Deputies on Thursday, security forces and police clashed with protesters.

At one point, several left-wing, Peronist and Radical deputies stormed out of the building to observe and denounce the police action. They later went back inside to take their seats and the debate resumed, running until past midnight.

As the session dragged into the early hours, congressional leaders agreed to end Thursday's session and reconvene on Friday morning, saying that negotiations were still ongoing and that deputies were not close to voting.

The drama unfolded on the second day of what is expected to be a marathon debate on Milei's reform plan, formally known as the "Ley de Bases y Puntos de Partida para La Libertad de los Argentinos."

While protesters were for the most part calm, TV footage showed police firing rubber bullets and water cannons at hundreds of demonstrators opposed to the reform package.

Local media reported three people injured and two arrests. The Buenos Aires press union reported at least 15 journalists were hit by rubber bullets, including one in the face.

Police forces formed cordons with shields and fired pepper spray at demonstrators who blocked sidewalks, employing the "anti-picket" protocol of Security Minister Patricia Bullrich, which prohibits roadblocks.

"We cannot hold a session under these circumstances," Frente de Izquierda y Trabajadores – Unidad lawmaker Nicolás Del Cano said as he and others left the building.

Peronist and leftist opposition deputies focused their criticism on reforms to the Penal Code proposed by the reform, which they claimed criminalise public protest. 

Myriam Bregman, a leftist lawmaker and former presidential hopeful, told reporters that a group of around 40 lawmakers had urged police to stop the violence.

"They hurled gas at us, they hit us, they pushed us," Bregman said.

PRO national deputy Alejandro Finocchiaro, a lawmaker who is supporting Milei's reform push, accused his peers who walked out of trying to delay the debate. He said the demonstrators outside "were determined to be repressed so this session will come to a halt."

It was the second day of protests outside Congress as the bill is debated.

Milei has his work cut out for him as his party holds just 38 of the 257 seats in the lower chamber, but La Libertad Avanza are confident they have the votes to pass the bill.

Moderate opposition lawmakers have warned they will seek further changes to the bill, in particular on the touchy issue of the delegation of special powers to the executive in an economic emergency, and on the scope and extent of privatisations.

Plans to privatise state-owned oil giant YPF have already been scrapped, but another 40 companies are still on the list.

 

) A group of deputies from the Left, Kirchnerism and the Radical Civic Union (UCR) left the premises due to the confrontations between the security forces and the militants from different areas that congregate in the vicinity of the National Congress.

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