Zimbabwe police stop protest march by civil servants

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HARARE, Zimbabwe (AP) — Zimbabwe police Wednesday blocked government workers from marching to protest for better salaries, a day after dozens of public hospital doctors were fired for striking for more pay.

Strikes have become frequent in the southern African country in recent weeks as the economy continues to deteriorate.

Armed with batons, police formed a human wall and prevented the workers from leaving their association's offices in the capital, Harare.

Scores had turned up for the protest, and had planned to march to government offices and hand in a petition.

A handful of protesters who tried to bulldoze their way through the police barricade were pushed back. One was manhandled.

"Many people are not here because they are scared of this heavy police presence. All we want are meaningful salaries," said Cecilia Alexander, chairwoman of the Apex Council, which represents the more than 300,000 government workers. Police in trucks and on foot outnumbered the protesters.

The workers are calling for their salaries to be indexed to the U.S dollar, arguing that Zimbabwe's escalating inflation and the devaluation of the local currency is eroding their salaries so much that many can no longer afford bus fare to work. The average monthly salary of a civil servant is about U.S. $60.

On Tuesday, the government said it had fired 77 public hospital doctors who have been on strike for more than 60 days and had refused to attend disciplinary hearings. The striking doctors are also demanding that their salaries to be indexed to U.S dollars.

More striking doctors are likely to be fired for missing work in the coming days, said their representative Masimba Ndoro, citing the reluctance by the majority of the doctors to attend the disciplinary hearings.

Zimbabwe is enduring its worst economic crisis in more than a decade. Inflation was last calculated at 300 percent in August by the International Monetary Fund, making it the second highest globally after Venezuela. The government stopped publishing annual inflation data in August when the known figure was 175 percent for June.

The government says it cannot afford the workers' demands.


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