Hundreds of thousands of Argentines have taken to the streets to voice outrage at cuts to higher public education under budget-slashing President Javier Milei, protest organisers say.

Joined by professors, parents and alumni from the 57 state-run universities in the economic crisis-riddled South American country, students rose up on Tuesday “in defence of free public university education”, they said.

Labour unions, opposition parties and private universities backed the protests in Buenos Aires and other major cities, such as Cordoba, in one of the biggest demonstrations yet against the austerity measures introduced since Milei took office in December.

Police said about 100,000 people turned out in the capital alone while organisers put the number at closer to half a million, who paralysed the city centre for hours.

A teachers union reported a million protesters countrywide.

Third-year medical student Pablo Vicenti, 22, told the Agence French-Presse news agency in Buenos Aires that he was outraged at the government’s “brutal attack” on the university system.

“They want to defund it with a false story that there is no money. There is, but they choose not to spend it on public education,” he said.

Milei won elections in November, promising to take a chainsaw to public spending and reduce the budget deficit to zero.

To that end, his government has slashed subsidies for transport, fuel and energy even as wage earners have lost a fifth of their purchasing power.

Thousands of public servants have lost their jobs, and Milei has faced numerous anti-austerity protests.

His government dismissed Tuesday’s protests as “political”.

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