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Argentina spy agency reform urged

President Cristina Fernandez has called on congress to dissolve Argentina's intelligence services in the wake of the mysterious death of a prosecutor, strongly denying his accusation that she had sought to shield former Iranian officials suspected in the 1994 bombing of a Jewish centre.

She did not say who might have killed Alberto Nisman, but in recent letters posted on social media she suggested that rogue intelligence agents may have orchestrated the death in a plot against her government.

Her nationally televised address was the first since Mr Nisman was found dead hours before he was to give potentially explosive testimony on the alleged cover-up.

She provided no new details of the alleged plot within the intelligence agencies she oversees, and the speech was immediately criticised by opposition parties and Jewish community leaders.

Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri, a leading possible presidential contender for October elections, said: "The Intelligence Department is not going to change with a modification of its name."

He added that Ms Fernandez's speech did nothing to clear up what happened to Mr Nisman.

Ms Fernandez said she would give lawmakers her proposal for a new spy agency by the end of the week.

She added that reforming the clandestine services was a "national debt" the country has had since the return of democracy in 1983. Argentina had several years of a brutal dictatorship, and Ms Fernandez suggested that the problems of today had their roots in the years of that military government.

While government officials had previously labelled Mr Nisman's allegations as absurd, today's speech was the first time Ms Fernandez had taken them on directly.

"It's unreasonable to think our government could even be suspected of such a manoeuvre," said Ms Fernandez, who spoke while sitting in a wheelchair because of a fractured ankle.

Mr Nisman, 51, was found dead on January 18 in the bathroom in his apartment, a bullet in his right temple. A .22 calibre gun was found next to him.

His death came days after he gave a judge a report alleging Ms Fernandez secretly reached a deal to prevent prosecution of former Iranian officials accused of involvement in the 1994 bombing of Argentina's largest Jewish centre, which killed 85 people.

The deal allegedly was in exchange for economic and trade benefits with Iran. Iran has denied the accusation.

Mr Nisman's death has produced anti-government protests and a myriad of conspiracy theories, ranging from suicide to the involvement of Iranian intelligence agents.

Appearing rested and calm, Ms Fernandez began with a spirited defence of her government's efforts to solve the 1994 case, but lamented that more than 20 years later nobody had been convicted.

She noted that her predecessor, husband and former president Nestor Kirchner, had appointed Mr Nisman to the case after years of paralysis.

She said a 2013 memorandum of understanding with Iran, which many in the country have bitterly criticised, was aimed at obtaining co-operation with the Middle Eastern powerhouse to finally seek justice for the bombing.

Ms Fernandez, 61, said that only a few in government would have access to the heads of the new Federal Intelligence Agency, apparently a critique of a system where many in congress have contact with intelligence officials.

In her two letters the last week, Ms Fernandez suggested Mr Nisman's death was a plot against her government possibly orchestrated by intelligence services, which had fed false information to Mr Nisman.

In her first letter, published on January 19, she suggested that Nisman committed suicide. Three days later, however, she did an about-face, suggesting that he had been killed.

Without directly accusing him of wrongdoing, in her speech Ms Fernandez mentioned the man who said he had loaned Mr Nisman a gun because the prosecutor said he feared for his safety.

Ms Fernandez said social media posts showed that Diego Lagomarsino was a "fierce opponent of the government" and alleged that he is the brother of a top executive with connections to Grupo Clarin, a news conglomerate that has often been at odds with Ms Fernandez.

In a statement, Grupo Clarin said it had no connection to the brother.

Employing the fiery rhetoric she is known for, Ms Fernandez insisted: "I will not be extorted, I am not afraid" of being cited by judges or denounced by investigators.

"They will not make me move even a centimetre from what I have always thought," she added.

Jorge Knoblovits, secretary general of the Delegation of Israeli-Argentine Associations, said Ms Fernandez's speech fell flat.

The president should have "lamented the prosecutor's loss of life, given condolences to his family," he said. "To deviate to the issue of Lagomarsino is regrettable."


From Belfast Telegraph