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Tucumán: top cop charged for repression

Opposition demonstrators carrying placards gather outside the provincial Government House in San Miguel de Tucumán last night. The massive demonstration was the second in as many days after the controversy surrounding the gubernatorial elections in the province, which according to preliminary results was won by the Victory Front on Sunday.
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A police chief with only 19 months on the job was charged in Tucumán for unleashing a violent repression against anti-government protesters on Monday night amid a deepening political crisis in the country’s sixth largest province.

Prosecutor María de las Mercedes Carrizo charged Police Chief José Dante Bustamante for injuries, abuse of authority and failure to comply with his duties as a public officer after protests over alleged vote fraud in the northern province were broken up with tear gas and rubber bullets.

“I couldn’t tell you who ordered the repression. I don’t even know if such an order existed,” said Carrizo, the lead investigator into the incidents in which police officers forcefully removed protesters from Plaza Independencia, the main square in San Miguel de Tucumán.

Police officers told her they had no choice but to repress the protests because they couldn’t stop protesters who wanted to forcefully gain entry into the local Government House.

Carrizo also demanded Bustamante’s arrest, but the judge who presides over the case rejected that request.

On Monday, demonstrators claimed fraud in the provincial governor’s race after several ballot boxes were burned in incidents that authorities have said were instigated by members of several political parties. Yesterday, Tucumán Governor José Alperovich spoke of “police excesses” and said the people of the province should have been able to express themselves. But human rights groups found his explanation far from satisfying.

“José Alperovich said he disagrees with repression and that the judicial system is investigating those responsible. But he is the leader of the provincial police that carried out a violent, uncontrolled, unprofessional operative,” the Centre for Legal and Social Studies (CELS) said in a news release.

“This operation was conducted by a security force that has already showed significant levels of autonomy and extortion, without being reformed,” the organization added.

Radical (UCR) Senator Silvia Elías de Pérez criticized the operative, saying rubber bullets had been fired “without mercy.”

“Alperovich could have stopped this barbaric action with a simple phone call,” she told Radio del Plata.

Last night, protesters took to the streets for the second consecutive day.

At least 30,000 demonstrators carrying candles and Argentine flags showed up at Plaza Independencia, repeatedly clapping and chanting slogans. Many were carrying flags of the UCR and the Workers’ Party (PO). At press time, no major incidents were reported as police forces appeared determined to let the protest take place without interference.

Place the blame

As this new series of incidents marred the aftermath of the gubernatorial elections held on Sunday, presidential candidates and government officials exchanged accusations about who was responsible for the repression on Monday.

Cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández suggested that foreign elements from “up north” had organized the late Monday protests. Skirmishes, he said, were “actions of the North that seek to delegitimize the (general) elections” later this year. He had initially told reporters that he didn’t know what happened in Tucumán because he “was sleeping” when the incidents took place.

Buenos Aires province Governor Daniel Scioli, the presidential contender for the ruling Victory Front (FpV), repudiated the repression and “the authoritarian attitude shown by some police officers.”

Shortly threafter, he blamed the opposition.

“I understand that (PRO presidential candidate Mauricio Macri) is campaigning, but he should not be motivating (Tucumán inhabitants to take the streets) because we end up having situations like the ones seen yesterday,” Scioli said.

Kirchnerite Senator Beatriz Rojkés de Alperovich — Alperovich’s wife — said the media was responsible for the incidents. The events on Monday, she said, were encouraged “by opposition media outlets trying to defend certain conglomerates.”

Macri dismissed the claims, saying the anti-government protest at Plaza Independencia had been a spontaneous rally called through social networks. Renewal Front leader Sergio Massa, for his part, lamented that “once every 10 years Argentina goes through terrible episodes in the struggle for power.”

‘Scared and anguished’

Yesterday, all 22 people, including five police officers, who had been injured at Plaza Independencia were released from hospital.

Some required medical care after they were shot with rubber bullets while others were debilitated by tear gas, Deputy Health Minister Fernando Avellaneda said.

“Most of the assisted were scared and anguished by the situation,” the official explained.

To repudiate the events of Monday night, the banking association said banks throughout the province would remain closed today.

Herald staff with online media

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