President Nestor Kirchner drew tens of thousands of cheering supporters to a rally on Thursday marking his third anniversary in power, a gathering seen by many as a tune up for a re-election run next year.
The throng jammed the main square of Buenos Aires, the broad Plaza de Mayo fronting the Government House, where Kirchner and his wife saluted the crowd amid fluttering balloons, huge banners and banging drums.
Police gave no estimate on the size of the crowd and it was unclear if Kirchner got the more than 100,000 he wanted to jam the square. Thousands more, however, spilled out onto side streets.
"Argentina! Argentina!" the crowd chanted amid the crackle of fireworks as a blizzard of confetti floated down on Kirchner and other leaders standing on a stage against the backdrop of the pink Government House.
Kirchner said his three-year-old government had stabilized an Argentine economy battered by a devastating 2002 financial meltdown. He blamed double-digit inflation and high unemployment on predecessors' missteps and urged the cheering throng to support him as he continues his efforts to right the economy.
"We have come to this plaza to show our strength, to show our resolve in rebuilding Argentina," Kirchner said. "Argentina was close to collapsing but thanks to the strength of honest, decent people who never resigned themselves to allowing this country to fail, we have begun the reconstruction."
He said 2.5 million people had been put back to work in his term and declared his country had won its economic freedom by paying off billions of dollars in debt -- its entire obligation to the IMF.
While he made no re-election announcement Thursday, the center-left leader appealed to his populist base for support.
"I ask you all to join me, to help me, to back me up and give me strength to do my job," he said.
Most analysts expect Kirchner to run for re-election amid a divided opposition still unable to settle on an effective challenger.
"Kirchner again in 2007," read one banner. "Thank You Kirchner, the people support you" read another.
Kirchner was joined by Cabinet ministers, governors and even the white-kerchiefed Mothers of the Plaza whose children disappeared during the 1976-83 military dictatorship. Also on hand were local rockers and folk singer Mercedes Sosa.
Opposition groups spent days urging groups not to show up at the plaza, saying Kirchner's Peronist government was seeking unfair political advantage from a national holiday.
The Government House was fronted by a huge podium built especially for the occasion of the "25 de Mayo" holiday marking Argentina's first independence-minded government of 1810.