BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Thousands of Argentines of all ages and opposing political parties joined Wednesday to protest a Supreme Court ruling that many feared would lead to the release of convicted human rights criminals.
Argentines have been outraged by the top court's decision last week that reduced the sentence of a human rights abuser based on an interpretation of a repealed law. Lower court judges denounced it as unconstitutional and rejected requests for freedom by other convicted abusers.
And in a rare display of unity by lawmakers, Congress approved a bill Wednesday that would ban the reduction of jail sentences for people serving time for crimes against humanity committed during Argentina's brutal 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Demonstrators marched to the Plaza de Mayo square in front of the presidential palace carrying banners with pictures of those who were forcibly disappeared in a government-sponsored crackdown on leftist dissidents during Argentina's "dirty war."
Many wore white headscarves that have become a symbol of the Mothers and Grandmothers of Plaza de Mayo human rights groups. During the dictatorship years, they fought to recover their children and grandchildren by marching every week in front of the main square in Buenos Aires.
"Fortunately, the whole society has reacted firmly," Estela de Carlotto, president of the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, told the demonstrators.
"Numerous judges rejected the requests for a reduction of sentences and the freeing of human rights abusers. Today, lawmakers approved a measure that seeks to put a break on this law that favors genocide and repressors," she said. "These decisions fill us with gratitude and hope."
The so-called 2X1 law cited by the Supreme Court said that the days a suspect spent in prison before a firm conviction should count double toward the sentence. It was used by three of the top court's five justices to reduce the 13-year sentence given to Luis Muina for the kidnapping and torture of five people during a military operation.
The law was in effect in 1994-2001, when most dictatorship-era human rights criminals were still free.
Activists had warned that the ruling could set a precedent leading to the early release of other abusers. Senators unanimously passed the bill Wednesday saying the 2x1 law cannot be applied to human rights criminals. The lower house had already approved it.
Official estimates say about 6,000 people were killed or disappeared during the dictatorship, but human rights activists believe the real number was as high as 30,000.
"Freeing these genocidists is insane," said Jorge Leonardo Penalba, a demonstrator who attended the march wearing a white headscarf tied around his neck embroidered with the words: "Never again."
Associated Press writers Almudena Calatrava and Debora Rey contributed to this report.