Doctors and Health Workers Strike, 100 Teachers Arrested
Mar. 26, 1990
ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) _ Government doctors and medical workers went on strike Monday to protest pay cuts following of an eight-year wage freeze, and riot police arrested about 100 university teachers who threatened to join the work stoppage.
Armed troops patrolled the capital and other potential trouble spots where demonstrators protested violently last month against this West African nation's austerity measures, which include reducing salaries by up to 17 percent.
The austerity measures were brought on by a sharp drop in the prices of cocoa, the Ivory Coast's top export.
Only emergency services were available at Abidjan's main hospital in suburban Treichville. In addition to doctors, the strikers included pharmacists, dentists and veterinarians.
The university lecturers were arrested when they tried to hold a union meeting at Abidjan University despite a new ban on meetings and protests. Union leader Marcel Ette said they were to decide whether they would join striking health workers.
More than 360 members of the National Union of Senior Health Officers met in Treichville on Monday in defiance of the ban.
The medical union had called for its 750 members across the country to strike Monday and Tuesday to protest the cuts, imposed this month in a government bid to avoid bankruptcy in this financially strapped nation.
Dr. Assoa Adou, the medical union's secretary-general, said any pay cut on top of a wage freeze already in effect was ''insupportable and unjust.''
A union letter blamed the government of President Felix Houphouet-Boigny for the economic crisis, brought on by the slumping cocoa prices overseas.
''The economic situation actually is the result of bad management of public finances, embezzlement, etc.,'' the letter said.
Last month, the economic problems prompted widespread protests led by university students who accused government leaders of siphoning money from state coffers.
Protesters set cars aflame, looted stores and stoned cars and buses. They demanded the resignation of Houphouet-Boigny, who has ruled Ivory Coast as a one-party state since its independence from France in 1960.
The government then closed the nation's only university and all schools, leaving protest leaders without a meeting place.
In response to the medical workers' strike, state radio Monday said, ''All demonstrations in and around hospital premises are forbidden, as are all demonstrations and any meetings anywhere in the country. Security forces have been given orders to enforce this.''
Interior Minister Leon Konan Koffi tried to uphold the ban. He went to Treichville University Hospital Center, which was guarded by three truckloads of armed troops, and ordered striking health officers to leave the building.
''We told him they would have to use force to move us and that if they did, the strike will continue beyond Tuesday,'' Adou said in an interview.
He said the strikers planned to meet again at the hospital Tuesday.
The union letter warned ''the work stoppage will be total and unlimited if a health professional is the objective of measures of oppression, arrest or suppression of salary.''
Adou sent a letter to Houphouet-Boigny complaining about conditions in ill- equipped hospitals where patients have to buy everything, even gloves for the surgeon.
''Many die because it takes a day or two to get together money for the medical prescriptions ... doctors stand by powerless and watch innocent and unjustified deaths,'' his letter said.