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S. Korean Doctors Vote on Strike

June 26, 2000

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ Doctors returned to work Monday, ending a six-day strike that paralyzed medical services in South Korea.

The Korea Medical Association, a lobby for the nation’s 65,000 doctors, called off the walkout after members voted Sunday to reopen their clinics and hospitals.

The association’s proposal to end the strike was approved with 51.9 percent of about 32,000 votes cast.

``The government’s mediation plan is not fully satisfying but it is time to end the strike,″ association president Kim Jae-jung said. ``We’re sorry for causing inconvenience to patients.″

The vote was called after political parties agreed Saturday to accept one of the key demands by doctors: new legislation to give them more authority to prescribe drugs.

Angered by the concession for doctors, pharmacists initially threatened a nationwide protest but they later relented and decided to wait and see. They warned that the concession could compromise their interests.

While giving doctors more authority to prescribe drugs, the revision would restrict pharmacists’ power to sell drugs without a doctor’s prescription.

In a confrontation with the government last year, the nation’s 40,000 pharmacists went on strike and closed their stores. They reopened them only after they won concessions from the government.

Doctors walked off the job Tuesday, protesting a new industry system that they fear would deprive them of a major source of income. Doctors also complained that the system could restrict their authority to prescribe drugs.

In order to satisfy the doctors, the government last Friday promised to increase prescription fees _ currently set at $7.20 per person _ to give them more financial benefits.

Despite the controversy, President Kim Dae-jung made clear that the new system will be put into effect on July 1 as scheduled. Doctors demanded that it be delayed or drastically altered.

The strike caused most of the nation’s 19,000 private clinics and hospitals to close. Hospitals, short of doctors, sent patients home and delayed surgical operations. There were several deaths linked to the strike.

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