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Strikers shut down Argentina

Workers brought much of Argentina's business activity to a standstill with a nationwide strike Thursday, expressing disgust with spending cuts by shutting down buses, trains and offices and leaving trash to pile up in the streets.

"No to economic austerity!" young protesters shouted as they lit firecrackers outside the nation's stock exchange. They also set tires on fire before dispersing as riot police approached.

It was one of several protests Thursday, though there were no reports of injuries. Scattered highway blockades around the country hampered movement as hundreds of thousands of workers stayed off the job.

Most public buses and commuter trains failed to run, and government offices sat empty in the work stoppage, the seventh large-scale strike since President Fernando De la Rua took office in December 1999.

Strike organizers at the powerful General Workers Confederation claimed success from what they called a peaceful show of popular opposition to government austerity moves.

Union leaders called the protest over De la Rua's plans to slash government spending by 13 percent in a move to balance his budget by year's end. The move, which is to include state worker salaries and pension cuts, is also intended to inspire confidence on international markets that were rattled last week by Argentina's economic crisis.

Union leader Rodolfo Daer said more than 70 percent of workers stayed off the job. "This stoppage is a unanimous rejection of salary cuts," he said. "It shows how the people feel about this."

South America's second-largest economy is in the third year of a deep recession, saddled by $130-billion in public debt. Investors are worried about the country's ability to continue paying on its borrowings.

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