(AP) An Argentine naval ship detained for more than two months in Ghana because of a financial dispute was returning home Wednesday to a triumphant welcome.
Thousands of Argentine government sympathizers traveled to the seaside resort of Mar del Plata, some 250 miles (400 kilometers) from the Argentine capital, to celebrate the return of the ARA Libertad.
Ghana courts ordered the ship held in October on a claim by Cayman Islands-based hedge fund NML Capital Ltd. Its owner, American billionaire Paul Singer, leads a group demanding payment in full, plus interest about $350 million for dollar-based Argentine bonds bought at fire-sale prices after Argentina's 2001-2002 economic collapse forced a sharp devaluation of its currency.
The conflict over the ship reached an especially tense moment in November, when Argentine sailors brandished weapons to block Ghanaian officials from moving the vessel to a less busy dock.
But the U.N.'s International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea ordered the ship's release last month after Argentina argued that warships are immune from seizure.
President Cristina Fernandez has called Libertad a symbol of Argentina's sovereignty and has hailed its return as a victory for the country. She planned to head a ceremony in the afternoon to receive the ship.
Argentina, currently Latin America's third-biggest economy, engaged in the biggest sovereign debt default in history a decade ago. The government has restructured about 92 percent of its world record $95 billion debt default since then.
But Fernandez refuses to pay the holdouts, calling NML Capital and others vulture funds for buying debt for pennies on the U.S. dollar in 2002, when Argentina's economy during its worst crisis, and now trying to collect in full.
The fiery, center-left leader says it was their loss for refusing two opportunities to swap defaulted bonds for new, less valuable bonds that the state has reliably paid since 2005.
Members of Argentina's political opposition have called the welcoming ceremony for the ship an effort to boost support for Fernandez at a time when their compatriots are frustrated by soaring inflation, violent crime, allegations of high-profile corruption, and government currency controls that make it difficult to buy dollars.
Critics say that Argentines were humiliated by the government's failure to foresee that the ship would be seized in Ghana and other ports where it docked during training exercises.
Anti-government activists handed out fliers in Mar del Plata on Wednesday, encouraging people to join a pot-banging protest in the evening. If were for you, Cristina, they would have kept the ship, the fliers read. Stop the insecurity, the corruption and inflation for an independent justice.
Associated Press writer Almudena Calatrava reported from Buenos Aires.