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BUENOS AIRES, September 2 (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Argentines descended on the capital’s main square on Friday in solidarity against a shock assassination attempt on the country’s vice president the day before, which sparked an outpouring of support in a country plagued by deep political polarization and economic crisis.

An assailant pointed a loaded gun point-blank at Vice President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner outside her Buenos Aires home where a crowd had gathered Thursday night, but the gun was not discharged. Read more

Authorities have yet to determine the motive for the attack on Fernandez de Kirchner, a leftist former president of the South American country.

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Buenos Aires’ historic Plaza de Mayo, next to the Casa Rosada presidential offices, was overflowing on Friday with a crowd of his flag-waving supporters as well as allied unions and other activists.

“Thank you God and the Virgin that the bullet did not come out,” said Santiago Bianco, a 58-year-old teacher.

Others in the packed square also echoed a sense of nervous relief that a far worse tragedy had been averted.

“For us, the possibility that something like this could happen to Cristina is unthinkable,” said Claudia, 37, who declined to give her last name. “We were saved last night from something terrible that we can’t even comprehend.”

Political leaders in the region, US officials and Argentine Pope Francis all condemned the attack, which took place against the backdrop of a severe economic crisis caused by skyrocketing inflation and the disintegration of the value of the peso. Read more

Fernandez de Kirchner, a divisive figure who is arguably Argentina’s most powerful political operator, faces potential corruption charges related to an alleged plan to embezzle public funds while he was president between 2007 and 2015. A prosecutor in recent weeks has called for a 12-year prison sentence.

She denies any wrongdoing and her supporters have gathered in the streets and gathered outside her residence daily, criticizing the judicial and conservative opposition for carrying out what they say is a witch hunt against her.

‘RHETORIC OF HATE’

President Alberto Fernandez’s office called for an end to the “rhetoric of hate”, and the president said the attack was the worst since the country returned to democracy decades ago.

The attack was broadcast to homes across the country via videos and photos that went viral from Thursday night, graphically showing the gun being thrust at Fernandez de Kirchner’s head, before she stabbed. squats down and covers his face with his hands. Supporters outside his house then took away a man.

Oscar Parrilli, a ruling coalition senator close to the vice president, told local radio she was in shock but okay. “Luckily she has her mind intact,” he said.

Police arrested a suspect named Fernando Andres Sabag Montiel, a 35-year-old Brazilian.

Local newspaper La Nacion, citing police sources, said Montiel worked as a driver and rented rooms in the capital’s Villa Zagala neighborhood. Police found 100 bullets during a raid on the property, the newspaper said.

Video footage seen by Reuters showed police raiding the property.

Oscar Delupi, 64, a railway worker, blamed political divisions for sparking the violence.

“It’s crazy, society has already gotten a little carried away, the message of hatred (…) is getting more and more ferocious among these feeble-minded people who opt for something crazy like an attack”, he said.

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Reporting by Lucila Sigal and Miguel Lo Bianco; Editing by Nicolas Misculin, Adam Jourdan, John Stonestreet, Rosalba O’Brien and Lisa Shumaker

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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