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Kenyan doctors continue week-long strike: union

By Humphrey Malalo

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Kenyan doctors voted on Tuesday to continue a week-long strike for a 300 percent pay rise, ignoring government pleas to return to work and overturning an earlier decision to end the industrial action.

Some 2,300 members of the Kenya Medical Practitioners and Dentists Union stopped work after the government said it could not meet their pay demands. The doctors at state hospitals say their terms haven't been looked at for more than a decade.

"We wish to announce that based on the advice of the members the offer given by the government has been rejected and, as a result of this, the strike will continue," Dr. Victor Ng'ani, chairman of the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union said.

The government had offered concessions, including money for settling debts, for training and an emergency allowance for doctors on call.

Earlier on Tuesday the secretary general of the union told Reuters there had been a vote to call off the strike, but after debate among the members, that decision was rejected and the doctors voted to continue.

The doctors, who say they earn an average of 35,000 shillings ($390) a month, are the latest public sector workers to demand higher pay as living costs soar. Annual inflation hit almost 20 percent in November, up for the 13th straight month.

During Independence Day celebrations on Monday, President Mwai Kibaki urged the doctors to resume work and directed his minister of public service to conclude talks.

Frustration has been mounting at the high cost of food and fuel in particular in the east African nation, which holds a general election next year, compounded by a collapse in the value of the local currency against the dollar.

Demands for higher pay by workers coupled with increased spending in the run-up to the election have stoked concerns of a second round of inflationary pressures.

The cabinet on Tuesday said all requests for public salary increases would have to be referred to a special commission that will not be set up for another two weeks.