BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Argentina is facing a billion-dollar trip wire of debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) coming due with uncertainty over whether the South American country will pay amid tense talks to revamp around $40 billion in loans.
The grains-producing country, which has been battling currency and debt crises for years, is due to pay back $730 million to the IMF on Friday and another $365 million on Tuesday next week, though officials have not confirmed plans to pay.
"What is going to happen, we will know in the next few hours," presidential spokeswoman Gabriela Cerruti told a news conference on Thursday. She added: "Argentina's government is willing to reach an agreement to pay in a sustainable manner."
The IMF did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the looming payments.
Argentina's talks with the IMF to revamp a failed 2018 loan have stumbled in recent months over differences between the two sides about how quickly the country should reduce its fiscal deficit as part of a medium-term economic plan.
That has hit sovereign bond prices, some of which have tumbled to below 30 cents on the dollar. More hard-left politicians within the ruling Peronist coalition have also started hardening their rhetoric against the IMF.
On Thursday, hundreds of people took to the streets of Buenos Aires to protest against the Fund, which many blame for austerity measures that worsened a major economic crisis in 2001/02 which plunged scores of Argentines into poverty.
"What we are proposing is not only to stop paying the debt and break with the IMF, but to restructure the entire economy according to the needs of the majority," said Celeste Fierro as she marched in the city outside the central bank building.
Fierro, like others in the march, said the country should not pay back its IMF debts: "We believe in ... breaking with the IMF and ignoring this debt, which is a scam."
Vilma Ripol, another marcher, said the payments should be suspended and that Congress should investigate the debt to avoid a repeat of the 2001 economic crisis.
"It was a disaster in 2001 that took us years to recover and we had paid," she said. "We kept paying and our society kept on going down. Enough already."
(Graphic: Argentina's USD bond prices continue falling, https://graphics.reuters.com/ARGENTINA-ECONOMY/DEBT/zgpomaegjpd/chart.png)
(Reporting by Adam Jourdan and Miguel Lo Bianco in Buenos Aires; Additional reporting by Walter Bianchi in Buenos Aires and Rodrigo Campos in New York; Editing by Matthew Lewis)