Thu, Oct 19, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Reburial of Argentina's strongman sparks fight

DIVISION AMONG THE FAITHFUL Local media reported that the fighting involved rival labor factions of the Peronist Party angry about positions at the ceremony


Rock-throwing brawls between rival groups with competing claims on Juan Peron's legacy overshadowed the reburial of Argentina's former strongman, as his remains were hastily placed in a new mausoleum after the ceremony went awry.

"Viva, Peron!" hundreds of activists, politicians and labor leaders chanted on Tuesday afternoon as his flag-draped coffin was hand-carried to an atrium at his former weekend estate outside the capital.

It was the third reburial for Peron, who along with his glamorous wife Eva Peron dominated Argentine political life for decades, since he died in 1974 at age 78.

Supporters of Peron called for his body to be moved to a resting place more befitting a national hero, a place more grand than the crowded urban cemetery where grave robbers broke in and stole his hands in 1987.

But what had been scripted as a lavish ceremony to ensconce the former strongman in a US$1.1 million cement-and-marble mausoleum was disrupted by flying rocks, bricks and bottles, in ugly clashes that injured at least 40 people, according to reports.

Argentine media reported that the fighting between club-wielding groups on the fringes of a large and mostly peaceful crowd apparently involved members of rival labor factions of the Peronist Party angry about positions at the crowded ceremony. TV footage also showed one man who appeared to fire a handgun four times.

Authorities, however, could not immediately confirm the reports on possible causes or involvement by various groups, and labor leaders overnight pointed fingers at each other over responsibility for the violence in San Vicente, a small farming community 45km southwest of Buenos Aires.

Elected president three times, Peron radically reshaped Argentina by redirecting farm wealth to poor urban workers. He and his second wife became the country's leading 20th century power couple.

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