Argentine police fire tear gas at protesting civil servants

Buenos Aires (AFP) - Argentine police fired rubber bullets and tear gas Friday at protesting municipal workers who say they were sacked by the conservative party that took power in elections late last year.

The violence unfolded outside the city hall in La Plata, 60 kilometers (40 miles) south of the capital Buenos Aires.

A pro-business coalition called Cambiemos took power after the October election -- and later also ushered in Mauricio Macri as Argentina's new president.

In La Plata, the new Cambiemos mayor, Julio Garro, announced plans to "review" the labor contracts of some 4,500 municipal workers.

Most were on fixed-term contracts running through December 31. City hall extended them for three months pending a review. But now the workers say they are barred from going to work and have effectively been fired.

On Friday, town hall workers marched on the building and police protecting it opened fire with rubber bullets and tear gas, TV footage showed.

"They cracked down on us like back in the dark days," said protester Patricio Borda, referring to the country's violent military juntas in the 1970s and '80s.

"What the police did was irrational," Alejandra Gonzalez, one of the sacked workers, told local radio.

"They did not fire in the air, they shot to hurt us."

Macri's government has said it will look into the status of some 24,000 civil servants because of fears they do not actually hold jobs at all but rather just collect a salary.

Garro, writing on Twitter, blamed the demonstrations on opposition activists aligned with the previous president, leftist Cristina Kirchner, and said protesters had lobbed stones at police.

I'm sorry it happened today. A group of 200 individuals showed up outside city hall with clear political intentions," he said.