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Angry Argentine commuters torch train in rush hour

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BUENOS AIRES (Reuters) - Furious commuters in Argentina set fire to a train on Thursday over delays during the morning rush hour, incidents the government later blamed on leftist activists.

Television images showed black smoke and flames engulfing the train at the station of Merlo, in the western suburbs of the capital, Buenos Aires. At nearby Castelar, passengers hurled stones at the ticket office and blocked the rails.

Many passengers said the delays, caused by a broken-down train, had cost them a day’s work.

Justice Minister Anibal Fernandez said the faulty train’s brakes had been sabotaged and leftist political activists took rocks and flares from their backpacks to incite violence and set the train aflame.

“This was planned, it was premeditated,” Fernandez told a news conference, adding the fire caused nearly $8 million (4.55 million pounds) in damage to the newest train running on the heavily travelled line.

Police arrested seven people on theft charges during the incidents, he said.

Argentina’s dilapidated rail services are plagued by delays and travellers’’ anger has erupted into violence before.

Last year, commuters torched a carriage at a station south of the capital and rioting broke out at a main railway station when passengers clashed with police, causing dozens of injuries and arrests.

Reporting by Helen Popper, Nicolas Misculin and Hilary Burke; Editing by John O’Callaghan