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August 23, 2017

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Argentina's Moyano ups the ante with truck strike

BUENOS AIRES -- Thousands of striking Argentine truckers rallied outside the presidential palace on Wednesday to demand tax cuts in the biggest protest against President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner's rule since a 2008 farm revolt.

Their one-day strike was led by Hugo Moyano, a gruff truck driver who has gone from being a close ally of Fernandez de Kirchner to become one of her most dangerous rivals in less than 18 months.

Moyano is running for re-election as head of the country's CGT labor federation. He also leads the 200,000-strong truckers union — feared by governments for its potential to bring Argentina to a standstill.

The truckers, who have the clout to halt everything from garbage collection to grain exports, flexed their muscles last week with a two-day fuel transport strike that caused shortages and drew an angry response from Fernandez de Kirchner's government.

They lifted the measure after haulage company bosses agreed to raise wages 25.5 percent, but called Wednesday's strike over income taxes and child welfare benefits, which they want extended to more families at a time of slowing growth and revenue in Latin America's No. 3 economy.

Surging salaries — which are rising roughly in line with inflation — mean more and more workers are eligible to pay income tax. Wednesday's strike was aimed at pressuring Fernandez to raise the threshold, a demand she has rejected.

"This protest march is a call to our society: we have to try to convince this government to abandon the boundless and constant arrogance it has when it comes to understanding the country's reality," Moyano said in the emblematic Plaza de Mayo that faces the pink presidential palace.

"We're willing to collaborate and do our bit in dealing with the problems that are looming. But what bothers us, what we don't like, is the way they go around imposing things," he said.

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