Argentina's congress passes pension overhaul amid protests


Buenos Aires (AFP)

Argentina's center-right government managed Tuesday to push through pension overhauls that have prompted several violent protests, with critics saying the changes will weigh heaviest on the poorest sectors of society.

Members of the governing "Cambiemos", or Change, coalition won 128 votes in favor of the bill, with 116 voting against and two abstaining.

On Monday clashes erupted between police and protestors opposed to the measures near the country's congress building in Buenos Aires, with demonstrators continuing to bang pots and pans in protest late into the night.

President Mauricio Macri, in power since 2015, has been trying to limit pension payouts to lower the country's deficit, which is estimated at five percent of GDP.

His aim is to produce savings of 100 billion pesos ($5.7 billion) in 2018, equivalent to around a fifth of the deficit.

The changes would also push back the retirement age to 70 from 65 for men and to 63 from 60 for women.

Cabinet chief Marcos Pena has said that it will not cause retirees to lose purchasing power.

But the opposition argues that the overhaul would negatively impact about 17 million retirees, as it would change the formula used to calculate benefits, adjusting payments quarterly while taking only the official inflation index into account.

"Voting is not the end of history," said Agustin Rossi, president of the leftist Front for Victory party of former president Cristina Kirchner.

"What happened today is the starting point, the beginning of a peaceful resistance," Rossi said.

Axel Kicillof, the former minister of economy under Kirchner, called the reform "a scam."

Argentina's three main trade unions and the opposition had called for a general strike and protests on Monday in the capital to resist the passage of the pension reform bill.

The crowd hurled objects including stones and bottles, trying to rip down metal barriers that police had erected to prevent them getting too close to the square beside congress.

Last Thursday's session examining the bill was cut short after clashes escalated. Dozens of protestors and police officers have been injured in the skirmishes.