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Montevideo, April 18th 2024 - 11:04 UTC



Argentines protest against violent crime

Thursday, August 31st 2006 - 21:00 UTC
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Tens of thousands of protesters held aloft candles and photographs of murder victims Thursday night, exhorting President Nestor Kirchner to get tough against rampant crime.

A smaller counter-rally by some 3,000 Kirchner's supporters blocks away warned against heave-handed approaches to crime. Police backed by water cannon trucks kept marchers from the two rallies apart.

Brazen daylight robberies, street shootings, bank robberies and kidnappings have alarmed Argentines, who long boasted that their capital was one of Latin America's safest, with its all-night cafes, tango bars, and suburban neighborhoods.

With Kirchner expected to campaign for re-election in 2007, his administration's record on crime has become the focus of many Argentines' anger. Kirchner has enjoyed approval ratings above 60 percent and is favored to dominate the 2007 race against a divided opposition.

Juan Carlos Blumberg, a businessman who led more than 100,000 protesters to the steps of Congress in 2004 after his 21-year-old son, Axel, was killed in a botched kidnapping, said he wanted Thursday's rally outside the Government House to send a clear message that Kirchner needs to get tougher on crime.

"First we put up metal bars on the windows of our homes to protect ourselves, and then we put fences up around our properties. Then we installed bars in our businesses and shops. What we need to do now is take down all these bars and put the criminals behind them," Blumberg said.

Blumberg is demanding a unified national police force, lowered age limits for charging minors with serious offenses, more jury trials and moves to prevent identity theft.

"Public insecurity is growing every day and this won't be solved by just adding more police patrols but by seeking out real solutions," complained Raul Castells, a leader of an unemployed peoples movement at the rally under a banner reading "Justice for the Victims."

Tens of thousands jammed the palm tree-lined Plaza de Mayo, awaiting a speech by Blumberg.

But others ? recalling the hardline military rulers who waged a "dirty war" in Argentina decades ago ? said they fear a crackdown on crime could infringe upon basic civil liberties.

"The problem of public insecurity isn't resolved with an iron fist," said Luis D'Elia, a Kirchner aide. Society must first tackle poverty, public education and health problems to improve security overall, D'Elia said.

The countermarch was organized y Adolfo Perez Esquivel, who won the 1980 Nobel Prize for his human rights work during the 1976-1983 dictatorship.

Perez Esquivel said society must be wary of heavy-handed approaches to crime, recalling when a systematic state crackdown on dissent officially claimed nearly 13,000 lives. Human rights groups charge the toll was nearly 30,000 from the so-called Dirty War.

"We say 'yes' to fomenting solidarity in our society and 'no' to fear and repression," said Perez Esquivel. "Greater repression carries the risk of greater excesses on the part of the security forces."

Marcelo Arena, whose 10-year-old daughter was slain in a March 2005 robbery attempt, held up a large photograph of his child at Blumberg's rally. He said, his wife and two girls had driven home from a party when two teenagers pointed guns at them and one fired.

Both suspects were detained, but "now we can't get a proper trial because the suspects are minors," complained Arena, charging that lenient laws for juveniles mean it will be difficult to achieve convictions.

Staring at the girl's picture, he sad: "Every day I think of her."

Categories: Mercosur.

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