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Argentina effected by large strike

BY ALMUDENA CALATRAVA Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina - A nationwide strike paralyzed Argentina's economy on Thursday, shutting down air, train and bus traffic, closing businesses and ports and emptying classrooms. The strike also stopped all non-emergency hospital attention, left garbage in emptied streets and complicated many other aspects of life in the South American nation.

Labor leaders want higher pay, lower taxes and millions of dollars they say are owed to union-run health care providers. The government disputes this debt to the funds, which the unions lost total control of after being accused of misusing the money.

All Argentines are struggling with 30 percent inflation, but any money for pay raises has to come from somewhere, and analysts say the economy has almost stopped growing for lack of confidence in the country's future.

Many worry that President Cristina Fernandez, who rules with decree power over many aspects of Argentina's economy, is squeezing the middle class by raising taxes and fees and cutting subsidies as she seeks funds to appease the unions and other sectors that could threaten her government.

Fernandez was dismissive of the strike.

"If everything is going so badly, who are these thousands and thousands of Argentines I see in the capital, when no restaurant has any empty seats?" she challenged. But a survey of 450 people last week found 62 percent agree that the president is "really losing control of things," the Polldata firm reported.

"We have to think it over 25 times before going out to eat," Maria Eugenia Diez, a middle-class housewife, complained in an Associated Press interview.

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