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FARM-ARGENTINA 06-17 Web

Congress will debate taxes

Facing the biggest crisis since filling the seat vacated by her husband, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner announced Tuesday that a grain export tax increase that has unleashed months of protests by farmers will be debated by Congress.

Fernandez, whose party dominates both chambers, said she will send the proposal to legislators to give it "more democratic support."

Public outrage over the government’s handling of the farm battle has exploded in spontaneous street protests around Argentina, including several marches in various cities involving thousands of people Monday night. The crisis has caused food and gas shortages across the country due to roadblocks launched by the country’s farmers, who also produce about two-thirds of Argentine exports.

On Tuesday, Fernandez compared the farm strike to a 1955 coup against then-President Juan Peron and called for all Argentines to attend a pro-government rally planned for Wednesday in front of the presidential palace.

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"If you want to change the economic model of the country, what you should do is organize a political party, run in elections and win them," Fernandez said.

Fernandez, who took office in December — replacing husband Nestor Kirchner — has accused farmers of trying to overthrow her government and also refused to repeal the export tax hike, a position that many think was the cause for escalated confrontations.

Farm leader Alfredo de Angeli praised Tuesday’s decision, saying it would finally put the tax hike to a public debate.

"Today, this process has really become a democratic one decided by democratic institutions," said de Angeli, whose brief detainment by government troops at a roadblock Saturday sent protesters out, banging pots in an symbolic act of defiance.

"The damage has already been done, but we’ll really begin the debate," de Angeli said.

The farmers announced Tuesday night that they wouldn’t decide their next steps until Wednesday, when their latest strike ends.

The crisis has caused food and gas shortages across the country due to roadblocks launched by the country’s farmers, who also produce about two-thirds of Argentine exports.

Some economists estimate that the nationwide loss in export revenue is already in the billions of dollars. As the world’s third biggest soybean exporter, Argentina’s domestic strife also has aggravated already dire global food shortages.

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This month, the crisis intensified when the country’s main trucking companies launched their own protest of the roadblocks by blocking yet more roads, saying they were tired of being unable to transport grains.

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