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By Fiona Ortiz
BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Combative Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has a new enemy: as her popularity falls, top television celebrities turned on her this week for not dealing with crime and street protests.
The vitriolic attacks on top-rated programs came as Fernandez -- who won elections in 2007 with massive popular support -- accused her rivals of staging strikes and marches to destabilize her government.
Wildly popular variety-show host Marcelo Tinelli and glamorous talk-show hosts Mirtha Legrand and Susana Gimenez criticized the president for a rising crime rate and frequent street disturbances.
Gimenez called on the government to put a stop to all the protests, which have been stalling traffic in Buenos Aires.
Tinelli drew attention to a series of sensational murders while Legrand called on Argentines to take to the streets to march against crime, but later retracted her call saying things had gotten out of hand.
Fernandez's popularity has waned in her two years in office due to high inflation, a farmer tax revolt, a perception that crime is out of control and rejection of her feisty style.
Rising unemployment and poverty due to the global economic slowdown have not helped Fernandez.
Her allies rushed to her support. Justice Minister Julio Alak denied there is a crime wave and said the media was being irresponsible.
Protest leader Luis D'Elia, who has stirred controversy by organizing pro-government rallies that at times turn violent, called the three celebrities puppets of Argentina's business elite, with mansions in Miami and luxury cars.
"What the hell do these guys do for the country?" D'Elia said of Legrand, Gimenez and Tinelli.
Tinelli responded by calling him "pathetic" and "violent" on primetime television. D'Elia replied calling Tinelli, whose show features a sexy chorus line and racy dancing, a "pimp."
(Reporting by Fiona Ortiz, editing by Anthony Boadle)

Reuters