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Mass Argentina march on coup anniversary as Milei questions toll

Protesters in Buenos Aires hold a large banner with portraits of people who disappeared during Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship on March 24, 2023 (Luis ROBAYO)
Protesters in Buenos Aires hold a large banner with portraits of people who disappeared during Argentina's 1976-1983 military dictatorship on March 24, 2023 (Luis ROBAYO)

Tens of thousands of Argentines took to the streets Sunday to mark the anniversary of the 1976 coup that brought an era of military dictatorship, whose bloody death toll has been disputed by the country's controversial new president, Javier Milei.

Central Buenos Aires was paralyzed for hours as massive crowds gathered for one of the largest March 24 "Day of Remembrance for Truth and Justice" protests in recent years, AFP journalists saw.

The normally festive, family friendly event was also joined by major trade unions, as anger rises over libertarian Milei's austerity measures put in place to fight against the country's spiraling inflation.

Protesters carried signs with slogans such as "30,000 reasons to defend the homeland" -- a reference to the up to 30,000 victims estimated to have died or disappeared in the 1976-83 junta's so-called "dirty war" on suspected political dissidents, notably on the left.

But that number has been contested by Milei, a political outsider and self-described "anarcho-capitalist" who has instead preferred estimates of around 9,000 victims, in what critics say is a white-washing of history.

Along with his conservative Vice President Victoria Villarruel, Milei and his government have instead characterized the 70s as an era of "war" between authorities and left-wing guerillas, albeit with "excesses."

The government marked the anniversary with a 12-minute video focusing on its version of events, highlighting victims from guerilla attacks as well as an ex-rebel who claims he made up the number of 30,000 junta victims.

"We are facing a denialist government," protester and activist Taty Almedia told AFP.

"Today more than ever we must hold onto the memory, and take to the streets," added demonstrator Mariana Gianni.

Since the resumption in 2006 of trials for crimes committed under the dictatorship -- after a period of amnesty in the 1990s -- 1,176 people have been convicted, 661 are currently in detention, and 79 proceedings remain in progress, according to judicial data.

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