BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – Thousands of Argentines marched Thursday night in the largest protests yet against the government of President Cristina Fernandez, who has lost popularity since her landslide re-election last year due to corruption scandals, violent crime and her ever-tightening controls over the economy.
"Cristina, the vote doesn't provide impunity for moral frauds or wiping out the economy," read a huge red sign that a group of young protesters carried into the Plaza de Mayo, in front of the Government Palace.
The pot-banging protests known as "cacerolazos" are an Argentine tradition, and this one appeared to be organized by everyday citizens on social networks without the support of opposition parties. In numbers bigger than any protests seen since Fernandez took office in 2007, people marched on public plazas in the capital and other major cities around Argentina.
Their rallying cry, spread on Twitter and Facebook: "We will not let this government keep advancing, march for liberty and for the defense of the national constitution."
Many Argentines fear the populist president will use her control of Congress to do away with term limits and try to win more elections that could extend her rule to 2019 and beyond. The idea has been floated by her supporters, and not explicitly rejected by the president, for whom the threat of staying in power has been a useful political tool for keeping supporters and opponents in check.
Fernandez dismissed the protests during a public speech in provincial San Juan, nearly 800 miles (1,300 kilometers) from the capital.
"I'm not going to make myself nervous, and nobody else will either," she said.
And in response to cries from her supporters to run for a third term, she added suggestively that "I'm going to do what I've always done: fight and work. I don't know any other way of life."
Fernandez was re-elected with 54 percent of the vote last year, but her popularity has declined since she began digging ever-deeper into the pocketbooks of the middle and upper classes to fund populist policies. With inflation soaring at about 25 percent a year, Argentines have sought to change their pesos for dollars, but the government has cracked down on such trades and made it nearly impossible to obtain dollars legally.
Crime, inflation and currency controls were the main worries of people who surveyed last month by Management & Fit consulting firm, which found 72 percent disapprove of her management of the economy, and 58 percent disapprove of her performance overall. The survey of 2,259 people nationwide, which had a margin of error of 2.2 percentage points, found that nearly 70 percent also disapprove of her political opponents' performance.
"I hope the president understands this message that many Argentines are begging to be heard," Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri tweeted Thursday night.
Fernandez, in her speech, suggested that her critics are mostly relatively well-off Argentines.
"We need everyone to understand that we have to put more resources into the most vulnerable sectors," she said.