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Burkina Faso Strikers Demand Pay Increase, Protest Rising Prices

  • Ricci Shryock

Protesters in Burkina Faso have marched in the streets of the capital Ouagadougou on the second day of a partially-observed general strike against rising prices. Strikers from the government sector are also demanding a pay increase. For VOA, Ricci Shryock reports from Dakar, Senegal.

Residents in Burkina Faso marched in the streets of several cities, protesting salary freezes and the rising cost of living. Some carried pots and pans and empty sacks of rice.

They also demanded the government raise their wages.

At the end of the march, organizers from the West African country's unions and civil organizations urged people to continue the strike Thursday.

There was heavy security.

The secretary general of the main union behind the protest, Tole Sagnoon, said people must wake up and change things, and they must be ready to continue the struggle.

Marchers say their salaries are not enough to pay for simple products such as bread and rice. They are calling for the government to pay them a retroactive 25 percent increase in their salaries, beginning from January 2001.

Ouagadougou resident Diane Sanwide says her salary does not stretch far enough to cover her monthly expenses.

Sanwide says she decided to march, because the issue is important and needs to be addressed by the government.

A journalist in Ouagadougou, Zoumana Wonogo, says the government tried to prevent the protest by releasing a statement Monday that promised formal talks with union and civil leaders in September.

"The government says it is not a problem concerning only Burkina Faso. And in this way, the government begged the association to wait for another moment," said Wonogo.

In a letter earlier in the month, Burkina Faso Minister of Labor Jerome Bougouma said the government cannot provide salary increases, but it is working to cut taxes on food and gas.

Union leaders said they went ahead with the strike because they want immediate government policies and not just promises of future change. Higher prices have hit self-employed people in the informal sector even harder.

Since Monday, students have not gone to class and administrators at the state-owned electricity company have been on strike, so residents cannot pay their electricity bills.

More than half a dozen African countries have experienced riots in recent months because of protests tied to food shortages and escalating prices. International financial and aid organizations are focusing on needed improvements within agricultural sectors that can help provide food for local populations.

U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon said the world needs to provide $1.7 billion to help African farmers buy seeds and fertilizers.

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