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Panamanian Police Disperse Protesters

May 26, 2005

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) _ Riot police in Panama City fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse people throwing bottles and rocks during a protest by an estimated 10,000 workers and students against proposed changes in the country’s pension system.

Protests over the last three days against the reforms _ which would raise the retirement age for men from 62 to 65, and for women from 57 to 62 _ have resulted in the arrest of about 240 adults and the temporary detention of some students, police reported.

Wednesday’s confrontation came at the end of a largely peaceful march that brought thousands of demonstrators to a square near the congressional building.

Vice president Samuel Lewis Navarro called the incident regrettable, but noted ``talk about withdrawing (the proposed reforms) is just not in the realm of reality.″

Protesters said the issue is one of fairness.

``I’m already getting a pension, but I have children and siblings who will have to wait longer to retire,″ said teacher Mirla Diaz, 57, ``That’s not fair, and we hope everyone will support us.″

The reforms must still be approved by Congress.

The government argues that the system will run out of money to pay retirees within seven years if nothing is done.

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