Tens of thousands of supporters rallied Sunday for Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, days after a judge dismissed allegations brought against her by a prosecutor who died mysteriously.
Seeking to seize the spotlight from a mass rally last month in memory of late prosecutor Alberto Nisman, whose death unleashed a crisis for Kirchner's government, the president's supporters flooded the streets around Congress for her final opening address before the legislature.
With balloons and giant puppets of Kirchner's late husband and predecessor Nestor (2003-2007), tens of thousands of supporters gathered with banners bearing slogans such as "Cristina is the people."
Kirchner, 62, will step down on December 10 after elections. She is battling to salvage her remaining months in office – as well as her legacy and her late husband's presidential dynasty – from the scandal that erupted when Nisman was found dead in his bathroom on January 18.
The prosecutor had accused the president of shielding Iranian officials from prosecution over the 1994 bombing of a Buenos Aires Jewish Center, which killed 85 people, the deadliest such attack in Argentine history.
He died on the eve of Congressional hearings where he was to present his findings that Iran ordered the bombing via Lebanese militant group Hezbollah and that Kirchner then protected those involved in exchange for oil and trade benefits.
Kirchner got a boost Thursday when Judge Daniel Rafecas dismissed the case against her, assailing Nisman's allegations – which a new team of prosecutors had formally revived – as unfounded.
Striking a triumphant tone in her speech before the opening session of Congress, Kirchner played to her supporters on another divisive episode in her presidency: Argentina's legal battle against hedge fund creditors that rejected its effort to restructure its debt.
The messy lawsuit in a New York federal court forced Argentina into default last year, but Kirchner declared victory in the country's battle to write down the debt left over from its devastating 2001 economic crisis.
"Argentina is the only country in the world that has reduced its external debt," she said.
"Never again will governments have to take out debt to pay debt," she added.
She said the "vultures" who bought defaulted Argentine debt on the cheap and sued the government for full payment were "internationally recognized bloodsuckers" – rhetoric that has proven extremely popular with her support base.
The rally for Kirchner came 11 days after tens of thousands of people marched in silence to demand justice over Nisman's death.
Kirchner has clashed with the intelligence service over her sweeping reform of the agency, which passed Congress Thursday, bringing its wire-tapping powers under executive control.
Nisman had based his accusations against Kirchner on hundreds of hours of wiretaps.
Kirchner's Peronist party has not yet picked a candidate for the October 25 vote to succeed her.
Judge Rafecas rejected the new case brought by prosecutor Gerardo Pollicita, whose team took over the file from Nisman and formally renewed his accusations.
"I dismiss the case because no crime was committed," Rafecas said.
At the time of his death on January 18, Nisman was investigating the long-unsolved bombing at the Argentine Jewish Mutual Association.
He had filed a report providing clear evidence that Iran had ordered the attack via Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah, and alleged that Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman were trying to shield Iranian officials from prosecution in exchange for lucrative oil deals.
Since his death, initially labeled a suicide, suspicion has fallen on Kirchner's government of orchestrating Nisman's murder. The president has suggested the prosecutor was manipulated by disgruntled former intelligence agents who then killed him to smear her.