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Argentine riot police disperse protesters with water cannons ahead of key Senate vote


BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Argentine riot police blasted protesters with water cannons to disperse crowds outside of Congress on Wednesday, escalating tensions before lawmakers were expected to vote on state overhaul and tax bills proposed by President Javier Milei.

Libertarian Milei's political opponents, powerful trade unions and thousands of demonstrators began converging around Congress early Wednesday when the Senate opened debate on the key legislation.

The demonstrators urged senators to reject Milei’s program of harsh austerity and economic deregulation. Hundreds of policemen backed by armored cars with mounted water cannons blocked the route at the edge of the square in downtown Buenos Aires, the country's capital. Protesters jostled and shoved against the column of police.

The vote is the most serious test to date of the libertarian leader’s vision of governance and change.

Milei rose to power on promises he would solve Argentina’s worst economic crisis in two decades. But his political party of relative novices holds just a tiny minority of seats in Congress and he has struggled to strike deals with the opposition.

Senators began debating two bills on Wednesday, a tax package that lowers the income tax threshold and a 238-article state reform bill, initially dubbed the “omnibus bill” because of its more than 600 articles.

This watered-down version still delegates broad legislative powers to the president in energy, pensions and security, and includes measures to incentivize investment, deregulate the economy and trim the deficit.

Certain touchy subjects such as unions’ provision of health care and the privatization of Argentina’s national oil company have been scrapped in hopes of reaching a compromise.