By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOSAIRES (Reuters) – Argentina will launch a massive security operation in coming days to try to ensure a calm meeting of the leaders of the G20 bloc of nations in Buenos Aires, calling a national bank holiday on Friday and shutting down the city’s main business district.
With local merchants riled about losing business on Friday and Saturday, and anti-globalisation protesters preparing to march, the government has advised anyone not involved in the G20 to take Friday off and get out of town for a long weekend.
This year’s Group of 20 summit, where leaders of the world’s 20 top industrialized countries will discuss issues such as trade and climate change, will be held in the Argentine capital from Nov. 30 to Dec. 1. The lockdown of parts of the city will start on Thursday night and last until Sunday.
Protests have been a fixture of past G20 events, and hooded anti-capitalist militants clashed with police in last year’s summit in Hamburg, Germany, torching cars, smashing shops and injuring officers.
Banks, markets and government offices will be closed in Buenos Aires on Friday.
“Our recommendation is to use the long weekend to get away,” Security Minister Patricia Bullrich said in a recent television interview.
“Take off after work on Thursday because the city is going to get very challenging. Our security measures will be very strong and the decisions that we will make if there is violence will be immediate,” she said.
Demonstrators blocked a part of Buenos Aires’ main thoroughfare, Avenida 9 de Julio, on Wednesday in protest of subsidy cuts and other austerity measures adopted by President Mauricio Macri.
Security concerns increased after a melee outside a Buenos Aires soccer stadium last weekend that derailed the final leg of the region’s main club tournament.
But Bullrich said Buenos Aires is ready for the G20, with 22,000 police and security forces on hand to ensure peace.
Coffee shop Cafe Metro, a stone’s throw from the capital city’s Teatro Colon, where G20 leaders will meet for a Friday night gala, will have to close on Friday and Saturday, along with hundreds of other local area businesses.
“We will lose two days of business at the end of the month, and towards the end of the year, when we most need money to pay our bills, the rent and salaries,” the cafe’s manager Fernando Garzon told Reuters.
Others nearby echoed his concerns.
“It’s something that further punishes small businesses at the end of a very punishing year,” restaurateur Leonardo Suckewer said.
Argentines are struggling with economic recession and inflation at around 45 percent, with the government introducing tough austerity measures as it seeks to lower the fiscal deficit.
Thousands of Argentine left-leaning protesters are expected to march on Friday afternoon. They will be restricted to a 2.5-kilometer (1.55 mile) area that will not include two landmarks they had originally planned to reach: the central Obelisk and Plaza de Mayo, two historic focal point for protests in Argentina, activists said.
“They’ve made a great effort to make sure there’s no one in the streets. We will march anyway,” said Beverly Keene, march coordinator and head of Jubileo Sur-Dialogo 2000, a group that campaigns for debt reform in Latin America and the Caribbean.
A spokesman for the Security Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Hugh Bronstein, Additional reporting by Maximilian Rizzi, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)