President Ra'ul Alfons'in declared a 30-day state of siege late Monday in an attempt to end a week of looting by people sent reeling by soaring inflation, rising unemployment, a devalued currency, and shrunken wages. Alfons'in had announced strict currency controls, higher taxes, and cuts in public spending in a televised speech Sunday as part of an emergency package to salvage the ailing economy.
Police say about 600 people were arrested and 41 injured by rubber bullets, tear gas, stones, and fists.
The government ``had no alternative than this measure to preserve order and guarantee the property and liberty of citizens,'' says Interior Minister Juan Carlos Pugliese. He blamed the unrest on ``ultra-leftists ... who want to cause anarchy,'' citing the coordination of assaults, jamming of police radio signals, and pamphlets urging Alfons'in to resign and workers to strike.
Leftist leaders denounced the state of siege and blamed the disturbances on the failure of economic policy.
President-elect Carlos Menem backed the decree.