Transportation strike in Argentina shuts down country

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) - Many businesses were shuttered and streets were mostly empty Tuesday as the country's transportation unions called a nationwide strike to protest income tax rates and high inflation in the South American country.

While transportation workers represent only a small part of the workforce, shutting down the subways, trains and buses created a domino effect because many Argentines have no other way to get to work or get children to school.

Many domestic and international flights coming into the country had also been canceled, as transportation unions represent many airport workers.

The unions argue that high taxes and high inflation, which private economists put at more than 30 percent, have eroded away wage gains the last couple of years.

Top officials in President Cristina Fernandez's administration have rejected the demands, saying the tax rates are fair and only impact a small percentage of workers who earn more than 15,000 pesos ($1,765) a month.

Unions have long held great influence in Argentina, and currently represent an estimated 30 to 40 percent of the 11 million registered workers.

More than trying to extract concessions from a lame-duck president, the strike was a way to send a signal to candidates before the October general elections, said Patricio Giusto, director of Political Diagnostic, an Argentine-based think tank. Fernandez is barred from running for a third term in October.

"Whoever wins, the next president is going to have to deal with this situation," Giusto said. "It's unavoidable if they don't want to have conflicts" with a large sector of the population.

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