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Panama government, protesters approach in talks to end road closures

#Panama #government #protesters #approach #talks #road #closures

The Panamanian government and protesters on Monday moved closer to an agreement to end a week-long cost-of-living revolt that has blocked roads, disrupted food supplies and damaged the economy.

In the early hours of the morning, the authorities agreed to reduce the price of 72 everyday items by an average of around 30 percent.

“The national government has the firm intention of continuing the dialogue and has shown today that it also has the will to reach agreements,” said Minister of Labor Doris Zapata on the fifth day of the marathon talks in Penonome, 150 kilometers southwest of the capital Panama City.

“There is already the first step towards solving the problems of the social crisis that this country is going through,” said Fernando Abrego, a spokesman for one of the protesters.

For three weeks, protesters demanding lower prices for fuel, food and medicine have blocked the vital Pan-American Highway and other major roads with stuck trucks and burning tires amid the deepening economic woes for Panama. Some have clashed with the police.

Despite its dollarized economy and impressive growth figures, the country of 4.4 million people has one of the highest rates of social inequality in the world, with poor access to health services, education and clean drinking water in some areas.

The demonstrations have left food and fuel shortages in some parts of the country, and the business sector says about $500 million has been lost.

Even before talks began, the government had slashed the price of 18 basic products and fuel from $5.20 a gallon to $3.25 to end the standoff.

The protesters had demanded a price cut for 82 products and a cap on corporate profits, a measure the government opposed.

Other demands include lowering the price of medicines and electricity, increasing investment in education and the public health system, and measures against state corruption.

Luis Sanchez, another spokesman for the protesters, said some roads had been opened in a good faith gesture.

But the government called for the end of all blockades.

“There is a population that is concerned about the closures,” Zapata said.

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