Farmers' protests over tax cause food shortages in Argentina

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The Independent US

Protesters banged pots and blocked roads in several major cities across Argentina as the country entered a third week of demonstrations by farmers angry at new taxes imposed on agricultural exports by President Cristina Fernandez.

Shortages of basic foods, including dairy items and meat, are being reported across the country as the disruption spreads. The stand-off is threatening to cripple the country's most lucrative export trade, notably of beef, corn, soy beans and wheat.

Elected just five months ago to succeed her husband Nestor Kirchner, Mrs Fernandez went on national television to defend the tax increases and send a signal that she would not back down.

"I'm not going to submit to extortion," she said. "I understand the industry's interests, but I want them to know that I'm the President for all Argentines." The government has said it will not enter talks with the farmers while the disruption continues.

Farmers' leaders, however, have insisted that the increases of up to 45 per cent on the export taxes are intolerable. "We will continue to strike for as long as necessary," said a defiant Eduardo Buzzi, president of the Argentine Agrarian Federation. Angry farm workers have been blocking roads with tractors and disrupting supplies to shops. By yesterday nearly half of all butchers' shops in Buenos Aires were closed while all major supermarket chains were reporting serious shortages.

Mrs Fernandez said that commodity prices had risen so fast that it was fair for producers to pay more in taxes.