Argentine Congress looted by protesters

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The Independent US

Argentina's interim President was huddled with powerbrokers from his own party yesterday after the Congress building was attacked by protesters demanding an end to the country's economic crisis.

A week after being appointed President by Congress, Adolfo Rodriguez Saa grappled with how to ease unpopular curbs on bank withdrawals without destroying the financial system and whether to overhaul a cabinet widely seen as corrupt.

But his biggest and most difficult task appeared to be finding a way to defuse popular disgust with politicians in general and banking curbs that sparked a fresh wave of protests on Saturday, just days after deadly riots forced the previous president to resign.

Public outrage over the four-year recession, which has robbed thousands from Latin America's middle class of their jobs and homes, led to clashes with police when a peaceful gathering in the capital, Buenos Aires, turned ugly. After demonstrators looted Congress and a dozen police were injured, Mr Rodriguez Saa's new cabinet offered to quit. In a grim speech to the nation, the President did not say whether he had accepted their resignations.

Mr Rodriguez Saa, thrust into power after more violent riots killed 27 people and led Fernando de la Rua to resign on 20 December, called a meeting yesterday with governors from his own Peronist Party to formulate a plan to ease the crisis.

With no easy way out seen from a slump that has led Mr Rodriguez Saa to stop payments on the hefty foreign debt and made Argentina a pariah in world financial markets, the country's politicians have also been turning on each other.

The US President George Bush called Mr Rodriguez Saa on Saturday and urged him to stabilise Latin America's third-largest economy and work with the International Monetary Fund to end the crisis.