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Argentina lawmakers approve Milei's 'omnibus' reform bill; protests continue on streets

February 03, 2024 07:39 am | Updated 07:40 am IST - BUENOS AIRES

The mammoth bill is a key plank of Mr. Milei's reforms plans for Argentina's economy, which is grappling with inflation above 200%, depleted foreign currency reserves and a time-bomb of debt repayments owned to creditors and investors.

Law enforcement officers stand guard on the day of a debate on Argentina’s President Javier Milei’s economic reform bill, known as the ‘omnibus bill’, in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on February 2, 2024. | Photo Credit: Reuters

Argentina's lower chamber of deputies gave overall approval to libertarian President Javier Milei's sweeping "omnibus" reform bill in a vote on Friday after days of debate, paving the way for a decisive vote in the Senate.

The controversial reform package was approved on a vote of 144 votes in favour, and 109 against.

Lower-house lawmakers will also vote on the legislation article by article, which is expected to begin on February 6, but the general approval means it will now likely proceed to the upper house in some form.

Over the past few days, flag-waving protesters opposed to Mr. Milei's reforms have clashed repeatedly with riot police deployed outside the green-domed neoclassical congressional building, at times hurling rocks at them.

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The mammoth bill is a key plank of Mr. Milei's reforms plans for Argentina's embattled economy, which is grappling with inflation above 200%, depleted foreign currency reserves and a time-bomb of debt repayments owned to creditors and investors.

The reforms that make up the bill range from economic policy to privatisation of state entities. They are a major part of Mr. Milei's push to tackle the South American country's worst economic crisis in decades, with inflation over 200% and state coffers running dry.

The vote followed a long and heated debate in the lower chamber, with deputies for the main center-left Peronist opposition bloc, Union por la Patria, voicing fierce rejection of Milei's policies while supporters urged them not to obstruct the bill.

Mr. Milei's La Libertad Avanza party only holds a small number of seats in the 257-seat chamber, but was still able to muster enough support from likeminded allies including from the main centre-right Juntos por el Cambio coalition of parties to advance the bill.

Last week, Mr. Milei's government yanked some divisive spending reforms contained within the fiscal section from the bill in what turned out to be a successful maneuver to boost support for it.

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