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With Most Police On Strike, Riots And Looters Hit Argentina

NPR icon by Bill Chappell
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Bruno Cerimele

Chaos is visiting the Christmas season in Argentina, where police in many regions have refused to work until they get a pay raise. The lack of law enforcement has spurred looting that has killed at least five people and injured hundreds more. Some shop owners are taking up arms to defend themselves.

In Chaco province, the casualties include police deputy superintendent Cristián Vera, who died after being shot by looters in a supermarket, reports Data Chaco.

Photos of the looting depict stores with broken windows; along one strip, metal security bars were wrenched open. Some stores have been forced to close ahead of the upcoming holiday.

"The violence has spread to 19 out of 23 provinces, and local news describes shocking scenes: A shop owner was killed when looters set his store on fire," NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports. "Banks, supermarkets, retail businesses and public transportation have shut down in many cities."

Lourdes says that other workers in the public sector are now considering staging strikes of their own, "in order to get a bigger paycheck that will give them what they say is a living wage."

And here's more background from journalist John Otis, who filed a report for NPR's Newscast unit:

"The looting first broke out in Cordoba province last week, leaving two dead and more than 100 people injured before the local police agreed to a deal that doubled their monthly salaries to about $1,900.

"Police are demanding pay raises to keep up with the country's 25 percent annual inflation. One person died when he tried to defend his supermarket that was set afire. Other victims were killed while inside stores that were being looted.

"President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has sent federal police and border patrol officers to hot spots where people have armed themselves in fear of mobs. The unrest takes place as Argentina prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the country's return to democracy."

In some provinces, leaders are firing police officers in retaliation. Others are capitulating, guaranteeing police a minimum monthly salary of around $1300. And in some cases, that's only the start of the problems.

"Río Negro Governor Alberto Weretilneck settled his province's 21-hour police strike by raising base salaries to 8,500 pesos [around $1,360]," reports the Buenos Aires Herald, "only to see health and sanitation workers walk off the job yesterday, demanding their own raises."

We'll remind you that it's summertime down in Argentina. The Herald reports that the summer heat, coupled with power outages, have also played a role in the unrest.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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