Anti-government protesters defy virus measures in Argentina


Buenos Aires (AFP)

Thousands of opposition demonstrators took to the streets in cities across Argentina on Monday to protest against President Alberto Fernandez and his plans to extend confinement measures against the coronavirus.

Demonstrators defied social distancing rules to answer calls to protest against a government announcement last Friday to extend containment measures in the Buenos Aires region until August 30.

The capital is home to 90 percent of the country's growing coronavirus caseload.

Demonstrators shouting "freedom, freedom" gathered around the landmark Obelisk in central Buenos Aires, waving Argentine flags and chanting anti-government slogans.

Demonstrators also protested against Fernandez's planned judicial reform to expand the number of federal courts in an effort to dilute the influence of judges suspected of making politically motivated decisions.

The protests in Buenos Aires and other main cities took place despite a recent easing of restrictions, even as the country battles a steady rise in infections.

According to the latest health figures, Argentina has recorded nearly 300,000 infections and 5,750 deaths from the coronavirus, while reporting more than 5,000 new cases a day for the past week.

Earlier Fernandez, whose judicial reform plans were a key part of his election campaign, called for unity in a speech commemorating Argentine revolutionary leader Jose de San Martin.

"We have lived a unique moment of humanity, not just in Argentina, where a pandemic is besieging us, infecting us, sickening us, killing us," he said.

The task ahead was to rebuild a country that has been "economically annihilated," by the former center-right government of his predecessor Mauricio Macri.

"They have left behind an impressive amount of debt, they have conditioned the future of many generations and they have plunged more than 40 percent of Argentines into poverty," Fernandez said.

"United I am sure we will win, " said Fernandez, paraphrasing San Martin.

The government imposed a nationwide quarantine on March 20, before gradually easing it in much of the country.

It also launched a multi-million dollar package of social and business aids to shore up an economy that has been in recession since 2018.