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Argentina lawmakers take up contentious IMF refinancing deal

BUENOS AIRES (AP) – Lawmakers on Thursday began debating legislation needed to approve Argentina’s agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on refinancing a USD45 billion debt, while protesters opposed to the deal clashed with police outside the Congress building.

Several dozen militants from leftist groups and social organisations initially threw stones at the building and set fire to tires and garbage containers. When police arrived trying to disperse the crowd, protesters threw rocks and bottles at the officers.

There has been widespread criticism of the agreement on refinancing debt taken on by Argentina in 2018 during the government of conservative President Mauricio Macri.

But the current left-of-centre government said the agreement reached last week needs to be approved to avoid a default on the loans and major problems for the economy.

“It is the best agreement that could be achieved,” head of the Chamber of Deputies’ Budget and Finance Committee Carlos Heller said a few minutes after the opening of what was expected to be a long debate. The measure was taken up in the lower house after President Alberto Fernández secured support from the main opposition bloc in exchange for some modifications to the text of the IMF agreement. That development was seen as making it highly likely that the chamber would approve the deal, which would then go to the Senate.

Leftist forces, including some members of the governing party close to Vice President Cristina Fernandez, oppose the IMF deal, arguing some of the economic measures it contains would worsen conditions for the 40 per cent of Argentina’s people who are poor. The government maintains the pact would not require any overhaul of the pension system or labour rules, though it said it would force increases in charges for gas, electricity and other public services.

The deal would allow Argentina to delay repaying its debt until 2026, with payments continuing through 2034. Under the previous arrangement, the debt payments would be concentrated in 2022 and 2023.

The IMF’s executive board also will have to endorse the deal for it to take effect.

A demonstrator walks in front of the Spanish acronym for International Monetary Fund. PHOTO: AP

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