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Argentine provinces teachers' dispute spills nationwide

Sunday, April 8th 2007 - 21:00 UTC
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Argentina's two main unionized labor organizations have declared a strike for Monday following the death of a teacher who was hit by a tear gas canister during a teachers' protest march last Wednesday in the Patagonian province of Neuquén.

The autonomous Confederation of Argentine Workers, CTA, decided a 24 hours stoppage while the government aligned General Confederation of Workers, CGT, opted for a one hour cease of activities between 12:00 and 13:00 hours. However, both CGT and CTA called on provincial governments "to find a peaceful solution to the dispute and open dialogue channels with workers". The two trade unions confederations have been confronted for some time now but this is the first time they agree on a joint release. Meantime in Neuquén governor Jorge Sobisch admitted full political responsibility for the killing of the teacher, while a police officer was arrested on charges that he fired the tear gas canister at close range against a teacher, Carlos Fuentealba, 41, who died 24 hours later of head wounds. The Police Sergeant identified as Darío Poblete refused to testify in court. It also emerged that last November he was sentenced to two years' imprisonment on charges of torturing an arrested man. He has appealed that sentence. The case sparked nationwide outrage in Argentina and triggered a dispute between the federal government and presidential candidate Roberto Lavagna. Lavagna blamed the wave of teachers' protests on the federal government's "electoral decision" to raise teachers' wages nationwide without asking provinces whether they were able to finance it. Vice-President Daniel Scioli meanwhile called for "maximum punishment" for those guilty of the teacher's death. The call for a national strike on Monday was initially launched by the provincial teachers' unions but was later extended to the whole country by national organizations to protest police brutality in Neuquén and in Salta. Buenos Aires City declared a day of mourning and Buenos Aires province ordered flags in schools to fly at half-mast on Monday for the killing of chemistry teacher Carlos Fuentealba. Neuquen's teachers union announced that no pay talks will take place until the "officials responsible for the killing" of Fuentealba resign their posts. Marcelo Gugliardo, chairman of the union said that the tragedy demands that "minimally officials from the areas of Security and Education must go", and called on provincial legislators to "impeach" Neuquén governor Jorge Sobisch. Gugliardo announced that a "solidarity" tent will be set up Monday in the square next to Neuquen's government house and access routes to the city will be blockaded. The incident has also a political background since Sobisch is one of the few governors that remain critical of President Nestor Kirchner and he attacked the administration of taking advantage of the tragedy "to have him pushed out of office". "Kirchner was the first to act with hypocrisy and cowardice, trying to exploit a tragedy in Neuquen", said Sobisch. "I face the problems: I don't hide from them as President Kirchner". He insisted that in Neuquen the rule of the law must be respected and contrary to Kirchner who fears picketers "I won't let protestors blockade or cut routes or attack the homes of government officials because of salaries disputes".

Categories: Politics, Argentina.

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