Reuters International

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Thousands of Argentines took to the streets of the capital on Friday to protest the policies of President Mauricio Macri, a taste of the backlash he faces for economic reforms that have swelled the ranks of the poor.

Protesters, waving flags and chanting anti-government slogans, demanded an end to public sector job cuts and plummeting buying power in a demonstration called by the country's biggest unions.

"We are losing buying power in a significant way," Pablo Micheli, the secretary general of the Argentine Workers' Union, told Reuters.

"We are hoping that the government will come to the table to talk. If not, we could call a general strike for the end of May or the first half of June."

By sharply devaluing the peso, loosening price controls and ending utility subsidies since taking office in December, Macri has sent inflation surging, leaving those at the bottom of the economic heap scrambling to pay food and gas bills.

At the same time, the business-friendly leader's efforts to trim government payrolls have eliminated thousands of public sector jobs. The opposition estimates that up to 150,000 people could lose their jobs this year.

In an attempt to stem the job losses, the opposition is trying to push a law through Congress that would guarantee generous redundancy payments. Macri has said he would veto it.

Although Wall Street has praised Macri's policies as a long-needed correction to years of government intervention and idiosyncratic economic policy under his leftist predecessors, the opposition retains strong support in the country.

(Reporting by Nicolas Misculin; Writing by Rosalba O'Brien; Editing by Paul Simao)

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 Reuters International