Argentine ex-security chiefs jailed for protest deaths

A man waves an Argentine flag at the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires on December 20, 2001 after police used tear gas to disperse demonstrators (AFP Photo/Fabian Gredillas) (AFP/File)

Buenos Aires (AFP) - An Argentine court jailed two former top security officials for the deaths of five demonstrators in a 2001 crackdown on protests that brought down then president Fernando de la Rua.

De la Rua was forced to resign and flee the presidential palace at the height of a raging economic crisis that triggered riots in the streets after his government slashed Argentines' salaries and froze their bank deposits.

The court ruled that former security secretary Enrique Mathov and former federal police chief Ruben Santos were responsible for the deaths of protesters killed when police opened fire on a crowd outside the presidential palace.

Mathov was sentenced to four years and nine months for culpable homicide and culpable injuries and banned from public office for nine and a half years.

Santos was sentenced to four years. Two former police chiefs and four police officers were given sentences ranging from three to three and a half years.

The sentences can be appealed.

The violent police response to the protests that swept Argentina on December 19 and 20, 2001, left some 30 people dead nationwide.

Police outside the presidential palace opened fire on a crowd of thousands, killing five and wounding some 100.

De la Rua, who resigned on December 20 and fled aboard a helicopter, was cleared of responsibility for the protesters' deaths in 2010.