Argentina's government on Monday suspended the Telam state news agency in the wake of an announcement by President Javier Milei that he would shut down what he called a mouthpiece of "propaganda" for previous leftist administrations.

Telam, which has been operating for eight decades and has more than 700 staff, is the latest casualty of Milei's drive to shake up or shut state institutions since taking office in December.

Presidential spokesman Manuel Adorni told a press conference that the seven-day suspension, during which staff will be paid, comes as government works to finalize the closure of the agency.

"This has nothing to do with freedom of expression or press freedom," he said, adding that Telam had suffered estimated losses of up to 20 billion pesos ($23 million) in 2024, without giving details.

Telam journalist Tomas Eliaschev told AFP that he and other employees had received an email in the early hours of Monday morning informing them of the suspension.

Milei announced the closure of the agency during a speech at the opening of Congress on Friday, saying it had been "used for decades as an agency of Kirchnerist propaganda" -- referring to the leftist political ideology of former president Cristina Kirchner, and her husband Nestor.

On Sunday night, journalists had discovered the "brutal decision" by the government to fence off two of the agency's buildings and surround them with police, said Eliaschev, who is also a press union representative.

The agency's website was also down.

Hundreds of people protested the closure outside the Telam headquarters in central Buenos Aires on Monday.

Eric Soto, a 27-year-old graphic designer, said the agency was crucial as it was "the only one" to report on events in remote provinces such as Santiago del Estero or Tierra del Fuego.

Telam was created in April 1945 by labor secretary Juan Domingo Peron, who would go on to serve three terms as president.

It published more than 500 national news articles and 200 photos daily, as well as content for video and radio clients.

In February, the government announced it would "modify" the structure of all state media, including Telam and national television and radio stations.

Milei, a 53-year-old political outsider, won a resounding election victory last year on a wave of fury over decades of economic crisis in the country, where annual inflation hovers at 250 percent.

The libertarian and self-described "anarcho-capitalist" is on a mission to slash state spending, deregulate the economy and shut down government-funded organizations he sees as serving "no purpose."