As many as ten people have died during looting in Argentina sparked by provincial police strikes -- unrest which the government claims is being stoked by criminal and political forces.
The looting began last week in the northern city of Cordoba when the provincial police force went on strike demanding higher wages.
Though the situation in Cordoba was resolved after the local government agreed to almost double police pay, the strikes and looting spread to 17 of Argentina's 23 provinces, reported the BBC.
Hundreds of people have been arrested and hundreds more injured -- many from gunshot wounds. Four of the deaths happened in the northeastern province of Chaco, and among the dead was a police chief, reported Clarin.
The strike does not involve the federal police, which numbers about 60,000 (comparable to the Buenos Aires provincial force alone, which has around 55,000 officers).
The provincial police say their typical entry level salaries of below $960 a month are not enough to live on in the face of inflation now running at around 30 percent, according to analysts. The government says inflation is much lower but has been accused by the International Monetary Fund of providing inaccurate figures.
The chief of the government cabinet, Jorge Capitanich, accused the provincial police forces of "treason," calling for them to engage in dialogue rather than "holding governors to ransom."
InSight Crime Analysis
While Argentina has a long history of social unrest, it is notable that the locations in which looting has surged most violently in these protests -- Tucuman, Chaco and Salta, for example -- are northern border regions with a known presence of organized crime.
Justice Minister Julio Alak said the breakouts of looting were not spontaneous but organized and "were promoted by a criminal organization," reported Rosario 3. He also blamed "certain political sectors" for fomenting unrest on social media. Meanwhile cabinet chief Capitanich said the lootings and attacks were "deliberate actions by determined groups, many of whom had pre-existing motives," though it was not clear if he was referring to political groups, criminals or the provincial police.
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Chaco province, which has seen the highest number of deaths -- including the police chief -- is close to the tri-border area of Brazil, Paraguay and Argentina -- a known smuggling hub, which has been described as a drug trafficking "free zone." Local police have been accused of involvement in the trade and even forming their own criminal gangs, raising the possibility that organized criminal elements are taking advantage of the chaos to settle scores.