BUENOS AIRES, July 9 (Reuters) – Argentinian President Alberto Fernandez called for unity on Saturday as protesters marched through the capital to the gates of the presidential palace, lambasting his government for runaway inflation and crushing public debt .

The centre-left president faces a growing challenge from a militant left in the ruling coalition that wants more public spending to alleviate high levels of poverty and inflation. Two key moderate allies left his cabinet last month.

The South American country, a major producer of soybeans and corn, is grappling with over 60% inflation, huge pressure on the peso and soaring gas import costs that are draining already hard currency reserves. weak.

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In a speech on the anniversary of Argentina’s declaration of independence, Fernandez called for “unity” and asked the different factions to work for it.

“History teaches us that this is a value that we must preserve in the most difficult times,” he said, adding that the country needed economic responsibility with low foreign exchange reserves and soaring global inflation “severely damaging” the local economy.

“We must walk the path of balanced budgets and stabilize the currency.”

Argentina, which has weathered economic crises for decades, reached a $44 billion debt deal with the International Monetary Fund earlier this year to replace a failed program from 2018. Many blame the IMF for economic policies more stringent.

In the streets of Buenos Aires, thousands of demonstrators marched on Saturday afternoon with banners saying “escape from the IMF” and “Out, Fund, out”. The protesters criticized the government and called for not repaying the debt.

Parts of the government, including powerful Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, have called for more spending to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 and the war in Ukraine, which have sparked protests in countries around the world like Sri Lanka.

“There is a monumental crisis in our country,” said Juan Carlos Giordano, a socialist deputy who joined the march.

“Argentina is a capitalist semi-colony in the chains of the IMF. Today we are here to say that we need a second independence. Argentina must sever its ties with the IMF which is the empire 21st century Spanish.

Fernandez’s government was thrown into turmoil a week ago with the abrupt resignation of moderate economy minister Martin Guzman, a close ally of the president who had led talks with the IMF. He was replaced by economist Silvina Batakis.

Batakis, seen as closer to the left wing of the ruling coalition than Guzman, spoke to the IMF on Friday and pledged economic stability despite concerns over a populist policy shift that has lowered bonds and shook the peso.

“The resignation of the Minister of Economy has shown that there is an economic and financial collapse that affects the lives of workers, of the whole population,” said Marcelo Ramal, a member of the Workers’ Party.

“We have to consider that this year we will have inflation of around 80-90% with wages not increasing as fast.”

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Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Additional reporting by Claudia Martini, Horacio Soria and Miguel Lo Bianco; Written by Adam Jourdan; Editing by Sandra Maler

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