2 dead as Argentina supermarket looting spreads

People run away carrying electronic goods during looting at a supermarket in San Carlos de Bariloche, southwest of Buenos Aires, Argentina, Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012. Hooded people looted at least three supermarkets and set a car on fire in of Bariloche, part of Argentina's Patagonia region. The sign in background reads in Spanish, "Pay less, take more."
AP Photo/Diario Rio Negro

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina Looters ransacked supermarkets in several Argentine cities Friday, causing two deaths and evoking memories of widespread theft and riots that killed dozens during the country's worst economic crisis a decade ago.

Santa Fe Province Security Minister Raul Lamberto described the attacks on stores as simple acts of vandalism and not social protests.

Lamberto said two people were killed by a sharp object and gunfire after attacks early Friday on about 20 supermarkets in the cities of Rosario and Villa Gobernador Galvez. He declined to identify the victims or the attackers, but said 25 people were injured and 130 arrested during the looting about 190 miles northeast of Buenos Aires.

Closer to the capital, riot police fired rubber bullets to drive off a mob that was trying to break into a supermarket in San Fernando, a town in Buenos Aires province.

A police lieutenant was hit on the head with a crowbar and suffered severe injuries during the clashes in San Fernando, authorities said. Officials said 378 people had been arrested in those confrontations.

Some shops closed in several cities despite the busy Christmas shopping season, worrying that the looting might spread.

The troubles followed a wave of sporadic looting that began Thursday when dozens of people broke into a supermarket and carried away televisions and other electronics in the Patagonian ski resort of Bariloche. The government responded by deploying 400 military police to that southern city.

The unrest brought back memories of violence during Argentina's economic crisis in 2001, when jobless people stormed supermarkets, shops and kiosks.

A policeman disperses looters after an attack to a supermarket in San Fernando, Buenos Aires province on December 21, 2012. Two people died Friday and two more were seriously injured as mobs looted supermarkets in Rosario, Argentina's third largest city, an official said.
JUAN MABROMATA/AFP/Getty Images

Former President Fernando de la Rua resigned on Dec. 20, 2001, after days of protests against his handling of the crisis amid rioting that caused dozens of deaths and injuries across the country.

National Security Secretariat Sergio Berni and Cabinet Chief Juan Abal Medina said this week's looting in at least six Argentine towns was the act of "vandals" instigated by union leaders who oppose President Cristina Fernandez.

"All that people cared about was breaking into shopping malls and taking the LCDs and stereos," Berni said.

He said that while Argentina still has poverty, it is nowhere "like the Argentina of 2001."