Argentine President Stands By Grain Export Tax Hikes

BUENOS AIRES (AP)--President Cristina Fernandez dug in her heels Monday over contentious grain export tax hikes, rebuffing farmers who are seeking talks to end a three-month standoff that has crippled Argentina's farm sector.

Fernandez also announced that revenue from the duties will fund social programs, including the construction of 30 new hospitals, housing for the poorand rural roads. It was the first time she has given details of her plans for the money.

"I ask that all Argentines commit themselves to the fight against poverty and the redistribution of wealth," Fernandez said. "It is impossible to redistribute wealth without touching extraordinary profits."

Fernandez spoke Monday just hours after her government refused to attend a meeting called by the national ombudsman with leaders of the four main rural groups, saying no mediators are needed.

Farmers claim they need the profits to reinvest in their lands to increase productivity.

During a news conference later Monday, Mario Llambias, head of the Argentine Rural Confederation, criticized Fernandez's determination to use farm profits to fund social programs.

"We agree with the destination of the funds," he said. "What we don't agree with is their origin."