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Morales 'suspends decree on Bolivian medics'

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In a conciliatory move toward the thousands of striking doctors across the country, Bolivian President Evo Morales has suspended a controversial decree that extends the daily working hours of doctors by two hours, the Reuters news agency has reported.

At a late-night news conference on Friday, Morales announced that he would call for a national public health summit and suspend Supreme Decree 1126, the agency said.

"Supreme Decree 1126 is suspended as is its corresponding applications," Morales told reporters.

The decision comes after weeks of nationwide protests by health workers and students and after about 4,000 doctors
have announced a hunger strike.

The demonstrators have kept the pressure up against the Morales administration by organising protests, blocking highways and clashing daily with police.

At the heart of the controversy is a measure which would require the doctors to extend shifts from six to eight hours day
without additional pay or benefits.

Morales claims that the nation's impoverished citizens are lacking in healthcare, while doctors claim the additional work with patients would interfere with their teaching load. The health workers are also calling for better salaries.

Protesters demand repeal

Activists reacted quickly to Morales' announcement, taking to the streets to demand that the decree be repealed, not just suspended.

Many protesters gathered in front of the heavily-guarded health ministry in the capital city of La Paz.

Wearing white lab coats and face masks, they threw rocks at police and started fires in the road until police dispersed the crowd by firing tear gas at the doctors.

Doctor Luis Miguel Duchen said he believed that the suspension leaves open the possibility that the decree will be re-instituted at a later date.

"This government, as always, is manoeuvring so that they can apply the decree later and increase working hours," he said.

"That why we the people, the university students and professors and the whole mass of people who are against this decree will not be fooled."

Next week, Morales faces strikes by drivers and union workers who will join the ongoing protests by teachers and the medical sector over salaries and social issues.


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