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Police clash with Salvadorean doctors

BBC News Online, 7 March 2000

Riot police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at a group of doctors and other government employees protesting at the government's privatisation plans.

About 200 medical employees had closed off a street in the capital, San Salvador, and prevented some ambulances from getting through to the city's medical centre.

In a confrontation that lasted more than an hour, riot police dispersed the strikers with tear gas and also fired rubber bullets and water cannons at them.

At least 10 people were treated by aid workers, but none were reported seriously injured.

Another group of strikers blocked two streets north of the capital and the Panamerican highway in the city of Santa Tecla a few kilometres west of San Salvador.

Last month the government brought in army doctors to treat patients left unattended by a three-month strike in the state health system.

The strike, which began last November, has closed more than 70 hospitals, clinics and health centres around the country.

With one eye firmly on the polls, ministers in President Flores' government have repeatedly denied that the government plans to sell off hospitals to private operators, as the striking doctors claim.

They have also tried to depict the protests as part of the opposition's orchestrated campaign to discredit the authorities.

But observers say that however deficient the state-run health scheme - which allows over 1.5 million workers free or low-cost treatment - it is seen as one of the last public services still standing.

Demonstrations were also held on Monday by a group of former paramilitary fighters demanding compensation for fighting rebels during the long civil war.

More than 1,000 paramilitary fighters - mostly poor farmers and farmworkers - marched through the streets of the capital to renew their calls for a boycott of next week's parliamentary and local elections.

The 1992 peace accord that ended the war outlined payments for regular soldiers but not the paramilitary forces.