Reuters International

Argentina's President Mauricio Macri speaks during a news conference after the bilateral meeting at Narino Palace in Bogota Colombia, June 15, 2016. REUTERS/John Vizcaino

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - President Mauricio Macri on Saturday defended his move to hike Argentina's energy rates as a "painful" but necessary part of fixing the economy after years of mismanagement under his leftist predecessor.

Macri's remarks came two days after an Argentine court halted price increases for gas and electricity, hurting his drive to narrow the fiscal deficit by cutting energy subsidies. The dispute will likely end up in the Supreme Court.

"If there had been an alternative I would have taken it, but there was no alternative," Macri said in a speech marking the country's bicentennial independence day celebration.

Macri cut energy subsidies and hiked power rates in January shortly after taking office, saying that frozen tariffs during the government of former President Cristina Fernandez had left the grid on the brink of collapse.

Macri said the decision, which raised tariffs by more than 1,000 percent in some places, "still pains me."

"All transitions are hard. We took over a country beaten down by lies and corruption," Macri said from the northern province of Tucuman, the cradle of Argentina's independence.

"Let's learn to consume the least amount of energy possible," Macri added, touting the environmental benefits of doing so.

Macri, who assumed power in December, promised to double down on efforts to slow inflation while pulling the economy out of recession. He asked Argentines celebrating their country's bicentennial for patience.

"Seven months is nothing out of 200 years," Macri said.

(Reporting By Jorge Otaola; Writing by Mitra Taj; Editing by Mary Milliken)

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