Argentines flood streets in anti-government protest

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SummaryThe center-left leader won easy re-election a year ago but her approval ratings have slid since.

Hundreds of thousands of Argentines flooded the streets of the country's biggest cities on Thursday in a broad protest against President Cristina Fernandez's interventionist policies and combative style.

The center-left leader won easy re-election a year ago but her approval ratings have slid since. Her government has virtually banned dollar purchases and it limited imports this year, worsening a steep economic slowdown.

High crime, inflation of roughly 25 percent a year, and a possible bid by government allies to reform the constitution to allow Fernandez to run for a third term are also stoking unrest, particularly among middle-class Argentines.

We've taken to the streets because we're sick of crime and having our pockets picked. Inflation is killing us, our pensions can't keep up, said Daniel Gonzalez, 70, a retired teacher.

Thursday's pot-banging protests conjured memories of the demonstrations staged by angry savers, housewives and students during Argentina's 2001-02 economic and political crisis.

Protesters in neighborhoods throughout Buenos Aires waved signs demanding freedom, transparency and an end to crime and corruption. A spokesman for the city's Justice and Security Ministry estimated 700,000 people were rallying in the capital.

A similar, smaller protest was staged just two months ago.

Local television showed rallies in other cities, including Rosario, Cordoba and Salta. The demonstrations were organized through social media and not by any one political party.

Some Argentines even took to the streets abroad with hundreds of demonstrators gathering outside the country's consulates in Italy, Spain and the United States.

We're protesting against Cristina's government so she listens to us. She's not infallible like she wants to seem. With this arrogance we won't get anywhere, we're already quite isolated (in the world) because of her policies, said Pedro Dominguez, a 56-year-old doctor protesting in Buenos Aires.

Fernandez's government has angered trading partners with import curbs and it riled Madrid when it seized control of energy company YPF from Spain's Repsol earlier this year. The country still has outstanding debts dating back to a financial meltdown a decade ago.

Critics say a government drive to break up the media empire run by Grupo Clarin is an assault on free speech. But supporters of the anti-monopoly law that is being enforced say officials are democratizing the airwaves.

DEARTH OF OPTIONS

Fernandez won 54 percent of votes in October 2011, largely due to an economic boom, job growth and expanded social programs. Her government spends heavily

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