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Clashes rage as Argentine lawmakers suspend pension debate

December 14, 2017

Demonstrators rush at police during clashes, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Dec. 14, 2017. Argentine police clashed Thursday with demonstrators protesting reforms to the retirement and pension system. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Police firing tear gas and rubber bullets clashed with stick-wielding protesters throwing rocks outside Congress on Thursday, leading lawmakers to suspend debate on reining in Argentina’s pensions.

Union leaders and social activists opposing the proposal said the legislation would cut pension and retirement payments as well as aid for some of poor families starting in March.

The measure had been scheduled to be voted on in the lower Chamber of Deputies on Thursday, but the session was suspended indefinitely as opposition and governing party lawmakers yelled at each other inside the chamber while riot police fought with protesters in nearby streets.

“If the government has a fiscal problem, it should resolve it without putting a hand in the pockets of the pensioners,” opposition lawmaker said Agustin Rossi, adding that he had been engulfed by tear gas.

Argentina’s largest union threatened to call a general strike if the measure was approved.

The bill, which already passed the Senate, is part of a series of economic changes pushed by the government of President Mauricio Macri to reduce Argentina’s high deficit.

“We’re convinced that this project is good and it reflects the will of the majority of the parliament,” Cabinet Chief Marcos Pena later said at a news conference at the presidential palace. “We feel that this law must be passed this way.”

Macri took office in December 2015 promising to cut bloated government spending and revive Argentina’s struggling economy. But his ordering of job cuts, the elimination of tariffs aimed at protecting local industry and the slashing of utility subsidies have fueled labor unrest in a nation with a long tradition of generous state jobs and benefits.

“We’re not willing to take this. The people are going through bad times and we don’t deserve this,” said Monica de Albuquerque, a retiree who joined in the protests.

She said it will be a “total disaster” if Macri’s government goes ahead with the pension measure as well as proposals to reduce taxes and ease labor rules companies must observe.

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Associated Press video journalist Paul Byrne and AP writer Debora Rey contributed to this report.

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