A group of pensioners clash with riot police during a protest outside Congress while lawmakers debate the government economic reform programme in Buenos Aires on 2 February. Photograph:AFP/Getty Images

PV Desk

Argentina’s lower chamber of deputies has given overall approval to libertarian president Javier Milei’s sweeping “omnibus” reform bill in a vote on Friday after days of debate, paving the way for a decisive vote in the Senate.

The controversial reform package was approved on a vote of 144 votes in favour and 109 against.

Lower-house lawmakers will also vote on the legislation article by article, which is expected to begin on 6 February, but the general approval means it will now probably proceed to the upper house in some form.

Over the past few days, flag-waving protesters opposed to Milei’s reforms have clashed repeatedly with riot police deployed outside the green-domed neoclassical congressional building, at times hurling rocks at them.

The mammoth bill is a key plank of Milei’s reforms plans for Argentina’s embattled economy, which is grappling with inflation above 200%, depleted foreign currency reserves and a timebomb of debt repayments owned to creditors and investors.

The reforms that make up the bill range from economic policy to privatisation of state entities. They are a major part of Milei’s push to tackle the South American country’s worst economic crisis in decades and stop the state coffers running dry.

The vote followed a long and heated debate in the lower chamber, with deputies for the main centre-left Peronist opposition bloc, Union por la Patria, voicing fierce rejection of Milei’s policies while supporters urged them not to obstruct the bill.

Milei’s La Libertad Avanza party only holds a small number of seats in the 257-seat chamber but was still able to muster enough support from like-minded allies including from the main centre-right Juntos por el Cambio coalition of parties to advance the bill.

Last week, Milei’s government dropped some divisive spending reforms contained within the fiscal section from the bill in what turned out to be a successful manoeuvre to boost support for it.