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.

to stoke high economic growth and backs big wage hikes that tend to mirror inflation.

Several government officials have been dismissive of the protests and accused organizers of being on the far right.

Fernandez told supporters on Wednesday that Argentines enjoyed more freedom of speech than ever before.

If there's a sector that is demanding certain things, they have to stand up and say this clearly. Now, please, don't anyone think that I'll start contradicting my own policies, she said.

The president's approval rating edged up to 31.6 percent in October, up 1 percentage point from a month earlier, while her rejection rating dipped slightly to 59.3 percent, according to the latest poll by the Management & Fit consultancy.

Other polls have given her higher approval ratings but they also show a decline of 10 to 15 percentage points this year.

The government and Cristina will emerge even weaker than they were (after the protests) but the opposition will show its impotence and its inability to channel these demands, said Sergio Berensztein, director of the Poliarquia political consulting firm. Under the constitution, Fernandez cannot run for a third consecutive term in 2015. Local media report her congressional allies may try to reform the country's charter to change this, but the government has not confirmed any such plan.

For now, no opposition leader poses a real challenge to her and the ruling Peronist party still has strong support in the heavily populated working-class outskirts of Buenos Aires. Cristina won with 54 percent of votes and if there were an election today, she would win again because there are no opposition candidates, said Cesar Pacheco, a 62-year-old shipbuilder protesting outside the presidential palace.

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