Argentine police clash with protestors outside Congress
Argentine police clash with protestors outside Congress while lawmakers debate the government's economic reforms in Buenos Aires, February 1, 2024. AFP

Argentine police fired rubber bullets Thursday to disperse protesters gathered outside Congress as lawmakers debated the new president's sweeping economic, social and political reform package.

Opposition legislators stormed out of the building at one point to observe and denounce the police action, but later went back inside to take their seats and the debate resumed.

The drama unfolded on the second day of what is expected to be a marathon debate on libertarian and self-described anarcho-capitalist President Javier Milei's reform plans.

The 53-year-old outsider won a resounding election victory late last year on a wave of fury over decades of economic crises marked by debt, rampant money printing, inflation and fiscal deficit.

Milei began his term by devaluing the peso by more than 50 percent, cutting state subsidies for fuel and transport, reducing the number of ministries by half, and scrapping hundreds of rules so as to deregulate the economy.

His massive reform package with hundreds of articles touches on all areas of public and private life, from privatizations to cultural issues, the penal code, divorce and the status of football clubs.

Argentines who elected him are already up in arms and even staged a strike less than two months into his term.

Opposition lawmakers walked out of the chamber as police put down the protests outside.

TV footage showed police firing rubber bullets and water cannons at hundreds of demonstrators opposed to the reform package.

"We cannot hold a session under these circumstances," leftist lawmaker Mariano Del Cano said as he and others left the building.

Myriam Bregman, a leftist lawmaker and former presidential hopeful, told reporters that a group of some 40 legislators urged police to stop the violence.

"They hurled gas at us, they hit us, they pushed us," said Bregman.

Alejandro Finocchiaro, a lawmaker who supports Milei, accused the those who walked out of trying to delay the debate and said the demonstrators outside "were determined to be repressed so this session will come to a halt."

It was the second day of protests outside Congress as the bill is debated.

Milei has his work cut out for him as his party holds just 38 of the 257 seats in the lower chamber.

Moderate opposition lawmakers have warned they will seek further changes to the bill, in particular on the touchy issue of the delegation of special powers to the executive in an economic emergency, and on the scope and extent of privatizations.

Plans to privatize state-owned oil giant YPF have already been scrapped, but another 40 companies are still on the list.