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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Argentines Protest Cutback Plan

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Thousands of demonstrators marched on the Argentine presidential palace late Friday, hours after President Eduardo Duhalde unveiled a sweeping plan to scale back political spending in his cash-strapped country.

Some 3,000 people gathered outside the Casa Rosada clanging pots and pans and shouting insults at the beleaguered president, the Supreme Court and Argentine politicians -- whom most Argentines blame for the country's deep economic crisis.

Hundreds more protested outside Duhalde's official residence, snarling traffic and holding up signs calling for banks to return their partially frozen bank accounts. "Give us back our money!" read some signs. Another likened Argentina's near-economic collapse to the downfall of Enron.

Earlier Friday evening, Duhalde announced moves to reduce the size of Argentina's government, making deep spending cuts demanded by the International Monetary Fund in exchange for badly needed aid.

On Wednesday, Duhalde reached an accord with provincial governors to make cuts of some $500 million by scaling back the size of national, provincial and municipal governments.

The plan calls for a 25 percent reduction in the number of seats in those bodies along with a similar cut in the number of staff. To further trim government expenditures, Duhalde is proposing to eliminate mid-term congressional elections.

"The plan's savings will be used for social programs," Duhalde said in a nationally televised address announcing the program late Friday.

But the announcement did little to persuade thousands from taking to the streets in response to a call via the Internet and e-mail summoning Argentines to participate in the nighttime pot-banging protest against Duhalde's handling of the economy.

Neighborhood groups rallying against the banking freeze have sprung up since Duhalde took office, and Friday's protest was the latest in what has become a weekly large-scale protest against Argentina's fifth president since December.

During the day, some 300 demonstrators staged a noisy, traffic-snarling march through downtown Buenos Aires to demand the end of banking restrictions.

"Thieves, we want our money back!" they chanted as they used pots and pans to bang on the metal shutters of banks, damaging the steel shutters on one Citibank branch and shattering a plate glass window at nearby Scotiabank Quilmes.

Police looked on but did not intervene in the demonstration, which concluded outside the central bank. It was the latest in nearly daily protests in the capital and cities nationwide, and demonstrators vowed to keep up the pressure until a 2-month-old banking freeze is dropped.

"We feel ripped off. We feel defrauded. The banks have taken our dollars and we want them back," said Sandra Giovanni, one of the demonstrators.

The government of former president Fernando de la Rua imposed the banking freeze Dec. 1 to stymie a run on banks that saw $2 billion yanked from the teetering financial system in a single day. Many deposits remain stuck in the system, some until 2003.

In other developments, Deputy Economics Minister Jorge Todesca pledged the peso would be fully and freely floated Monday. The unfettered currency float is to come after a weeklong banking holiday that barred most currency trading and financial transactions.

The Argentine currency Monday will be fully uncoupled from the dollar for the first time since the peso was pegged at 1-to-1 for 11 years until a January devaluation.