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Sat 15 Mar 2008 07:20 PM

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Doctors in Egypt take to street over pay

Demonstration latest in spate of protests amid national anger over skyrocketing food prices.

Egyptian doctors staged a protest on Saturday outside their union headquarters in Cairo to demand better pay amid national anger over skyrocketing food prices.

"We will hold a protest for one hour to demand better salaries and better conditions for doctors," Hamdi Al-Sayyed, head of the doctors' syndicate, said before the protest began, adding that similar demonstrations would be held across the country.

"The average salary for a graduating doctor now is 220 Egyptian pounds ($40) per month which doesn't buy very much," he told newswire AFP.

The syndicate is demanding the average monthly wage be raised to at least 1,200 pounds and the government has pledged to review the situation.

Al-Sayyed said there were disagreements within the union over how far doctors should go in their protest.

"Some within the syndicate want to call for a strike or want more confrontation with the government," he said.

"Some of us prefer a more moderate approach. But some doctors have doubts that the government will fulfill the promises, based on previous experience."

The doctors' protest is just one example of the wave of popular discontent over rising costs, with textile workers, teachers and accountants threatening strikes.

The government says that rising prices are attributable to the rising global cost of commodities such as flour, of which Egypt is one of the biggest importers.

The political opposition says that it is the liberalisation of the economy under President Hosni Mubarak and Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif that has made the poor poorer and the rich richer.

The UN's World Food Programme said this month that average household expenditure in Egypt had risen by 50% since the start of the year.

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