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Border Guards violently evict protesters

Border Guards in riot gear overpower a demonstrator and hold him down on the tarmac of the Pan-American Highway yesterday during a protest by workers on the Number 60 bus route. The drivers were protesting against layoffs. About 33 demonstrators were injured.
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Human rights groups say operation against Line 60 workers violated accepted methods

Border Guards violently dispersed a protest by employees of the 60 bus line who were demonstrating against layoffs during rush hour on the busy Pan-American highway yesterday morning, leading to scores of injured on both sides and criticism from unions and human rights groups.

Around 33 protesters were injured, two of whom were in intensive care and seven Border Guards received medical attention after authorities moved to clear a roadblock. Seven people were arrested and later released.

Late last night negotiations between the company that runs the 60 bus line and its employees broke off for the day, but are expected to continue despite ongoing tensions.

Security Secretary Sergio Berni said the operation was carried out in order to clear the crucial highway, but the move was criticized by unions and human rights organizations such as the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS).

“Border Guard officers fired rubber bullets indiscriminately ... upon workers situated on Route 197. The use of rubber bullets to rein in protesters is banned (by a 2011 Security Ministry resolution),” CELS said in a press release.

Security forces also used tear-gas launchers and other chemicals even though their use “to avoid roadblocks is also forbidden by that same resolution.” As a result, CELS said around 20 people were injured, including protesters and journalists covering the story — a figure disputed by the protesters.

“More than 30 comrades were injured, two of them are in intensive care,” an unnamed Línea 60 delegate told news agency DyN. “Do they need someone to die before a government listens to our demands?”

Approximately 400 Border Guards were involved in the operation.

‘They had five minutes to clear the area’

Yesterday, Berni defended his decision to violently disperse protesters.

“They were notified they were committing a crime and they were told they had five minutes to clear the area. After their response was negative, I gave the order to proceed,” Berni said.

Judicial sources informed the eviction order was signed in the courthouse led by San Isidro Federal Judge Sandra Arroyo Salgado, the ex-wife of late prosecutor Alberto Nisman.

CELS insisted that yesterday’s operation did not comply with the “minimal criteria” outlined by late president Néstor Kirchner and later re-approved Security Minister Cecilia Rodríguez for the democratic control of security forces.

While Rodríguez is technically Berni’s boss in the department, the controversial Security secretary — who favours a law-and order approach — has been the most visible face in the ministry that was created in December 2010 after a violent eviction coordinated between the Federal Police and the Metropolitan Police result in the deaths of three people that were demanding better housing conditions.

A bitter dispute

The dispute originated earlier in the month when Monsa — the company that owns the Línea 60 buses — chose to dismiss a driver, an action deemed unfair by other drivers. When 47 colleagues of the sacked employee reacted and staged a spontaneous walkout, they were all sacked by the firm too.

The protest has cut back on the service for over a month, affecting some 250,000 commuters who take the bus (which connects the City neighbourhood of Constitución with northern Greater Buenos Aires) on a daily basis.

Hours after the incidents, Security Secretary Alejandro Granados called the parties to a meeting and delegates acknowledged “small progress” in negotiations.

Herald staff with DyN

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