Menem blasts cat-eating film

Buenos Aires (Reuter) - President Carlos Menem yesterday denounced journalists who filmed starving slum dwellers eating cats as "traitors", saying they had besmirched Argentina's international image.

"They are real traitors. How can they be so irresponsible as to put those kinds of images that damage the country on all the television networks around the world?" Mr Menem asked.

Footage of poor families skinning, gutting and cooking cats in Argentina's second biggest city, Rosario, last week stunned a nation which is rich in exports of beef and grain, and sparked criticisms of government neglect.

Mr Menem said on local radio that the reports were a "disgrace" and claimed that the media had paid the poor to grill the animals.

Last week, after Rosario's mayor, Hermes Binner, made similar accusations, a leading commentator, Mariano Grondona, invited residents of the Rosario slum to his live television programme, which is one of the most widely watched in Argentina, where they insisted that they eat cats for nourishment and not for money.

The images were shot in the slums surrounding Rosario, 185 miles (300 km) north of Buenos Aires. Industries have shrivelled in the town in recent years and the jobless rate has jumped to 21 per cent compared to a national rate of 16 per cent.