Argentine state news agency Telam shut after Milei threat

Argentina's President Milei receives US Secretary Blinken in Buenos Aires

By Lucila Sigal

BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Workers at Argentine state news agency Telam found the doors of the 80-year-old institution's office barred on Monday and were told to down tools for at least a week after libertarian President Javier Milei said he would close the agency down.

Telam's website was taken down - with a sign saying it was offline for reconstruction - and workers were excused for seven days, an internal memo shared with Reuters showed. Police were outside the offices and not allowing people to enter.

The stand-off underscores Milei's campaign against a range of public institutions, which he says are either inefficient, overly costly or corrupt. He has said Telam is a propaganda mouthpiece for the powerful left-leaning Peronist opposition.

The outsider economist and former pundit, who won a shock election victory last year, is battling to turn around an inherited economic crisis with tough austerity to tame inflation at 250%, rebuild depleted reserves and overturn a deep fiscal deficit.

His government claims this includes having to make tough decisions to cut costs and trim down the size of the state.

Workers and opposition politicians said his attempt to close Telam, which was established in 1945 and employs nearly 800 people, was an attack on the press.

"It is a blow against democracy and freedom of expression and that is why we are going to defend it," the Buenos Aires Press Union said in a statement on X. There are plans for protests later on Monday, including by Telam workers.

The Association of Foreign Correspondents of Argentina said the state news agency was important to ensuring a balanced and accessible media environment, adding that if there issues to be resolved then Telam should be "reformed, but not annihilated".

Milei, who has repeatedly criticized Telam, said in a speech to Congress late on Friday that he would close it down. He reposted a lawmakers comment on X over the weekend: "Telam must be closed, it has no reason to exist."

It was not immediately clear whether Telam would remain permanently closed or reopen after a temporary shutdown.

(Reporting by Lucila Sigal; Editing by Adam Jourdan and Alistair Bell)