ARGENTINA. Hot political climate in a state of siege

Argentine politics are on the boil. An election campaign that two weeks ago faced public indifference was given a new sense of urgency last week when thousands of supporters of the centrist ruling Radical party gathered Oct. 29 in an emotional show of public allegiance to President Ra'ul Alfons'in.

The gathering in the capital's Boca Juniors soccer stadium was in response to a recent wave of bombings against military and civilian targets.

Human rights groups have linked the bombings to a destabilization campaign by rightists who want to government to grant amnesty to former junta members. The military leaders are accused of murder and torture during the 1970s ``dirty war'' against leftists.

An effort to curb the bombings led Mr. Alfons'in to declare a limited state of siege Oct. 25.

At time of writing, Argentines were scheduled to vote in a Nov. 3 poll to renew half of the seats in the 254 member lower house, or chamber of deputies. Some provincial authorities will also be up for reelection.

The poll is neither a full Congressional election nor a presidential election. Nevertheless the occasion will be an important test of Alfons'in's popularity, offering his Radical Civic Union party an opportunity to increase its vulnerable parliamentary majority and its tenuous hold on the provinces.

In the aftermath of the alleged plot involving six military officers and six civilians, the ruling party's campaign poster is poignant. ``You know that we represent the guarantee of liberty and justice,'' it says.

The Radicals point to reports that say some hardline sectors of the armed forces are bent on destabilization. This, they say, makes it imperative for the nation to rally behind Alfons'in as the guarantee of democracy's survival. A reenforced parliamentary majority for the Radicals, they argue, will mean a reenforced Alfons'in capable of guiding the country to economic prosperity during what remains of his term.

Radical officials are confident that the political instability of the last few days will bring them increased votes. ``I have no doubt that the great majority of Argentines feel a great solidarity with the government,'' says Juan Manuel Casela, a member of the party's executive committee.

The main opposition party, the Peronists, has tried to use the recent events as a weapon against the government. It has focused on the government's inability or unwillingness to produce evidence supporting its ``destabilization'' theory and the questionable legal grounds on which the arrest of the main suspects were ordered.

Some oppositionists argue that the government may have exagerated the alleged plot in order to influence the election.

``Strange things have been happening in this election campaign,'' says Peronist candidate Carlos Grosso.

``I ask myself whether the government has declared the state of seige in order to arrest the `plotters' or simply to change the mind of those who are going to vote.''

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