A general strike called to protest against the government of Argentina's President Cristina Kirchner disrupted public transport Thursday amid growing public anger over price rises and crime.
The impact of the strike was uneven, with department stores, restaurants, businesses and schools open in Buenos Aires and Rosario, the country's third largest city, despite the difficult commute.
But those that remained open were emptier than usual. And buses, commuter trains and most metro lines were shut down by the 24-hour walkout, while airlines were forced to cancel flights.
Gas stations closed, and radical leftist youths formed pickets on the main access route to Buenos Aires from the early morning.
Hugo Moyano, a truckers' union leader who and one of the main organizers of the protest, predicted that the strike would be "broadly observed because people are unhappy."
But many people streamed to work on foot or took taxis, which were doing a booming business.
- Strike like 'medieval siege' -
Kirchner's chief of staff, Jorge Capitanich, compared the strikers' strategy to a medieval siege, saying there was "no place for barbarism" in Argentina.
Three of the country's five unions are taking part in a protest that also targets Kirchner's attempt to cap salary increases in an increasingly troubled economy.
Kirchner's center-left government is being blamed for an annual inflation rate of over 30 percent. In addition, crime is seen as a major concern by the population.
But not everyone supported the strike.
Alberto Gomez, 31, chief of security at a popular shopping mall in downtown Buenos Aires, said he will work as usual because his company has set up shuttle buses for workers.
"Here we are not on strike. We respect the stoppage, but do so while working," he said.
But the strike had broader repercussions elsewhere.
Pilots and aircrews rejected the strike, but airlines had to cancel flights anyway because air traffic controllers walked out.
The Ezezia international airport said its operations were normal, except for the national carrier Aerolineas Argentinas which suspended all its flights.
Aeroparque, a Buenos Aires airport that serves the domestic market, was closed, officials said.
Two metro lines whose workers did not strike were attacked on Thursday by violent gangs and were operating on a reduced schedule.
The huge Retiro rail station, normally a busy hub through which thousands of commuters pass daily, appeared desolate and dirty, occupied only by some homeless people and dozens of police guards.
Besides the cap on salary increases, unions are angry about inflation and about rampant crime in major cities.
- A political push -
"I'm never in favor of the strikes, but living with this level of inflation is impossible," said Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri of the opposition PRO party.
Earlier this month, a year-long public safety emergency was declared in Buenos Aires after a spate of violent robberies and assaults sparked a wave of vigilante action.
The last general strike called by unions in Argentina took place in November 2012 and partially paralyzed the country.
"Everyone has the right to strike and that's good," Kirchner, who took office in 2007, said Tuesday.
Sociologist Jorge Giacobbe said the strike marked the start of a political push against Kirchner, who is in the final two years of her second term in office.
"The main objective is to tell the world that the public does not support the government's policies and the size of the strike will give a measure of that," said Giacobbe, who runs a consulting firm.