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Strike closes main Malawi airport

Striking state workers in Malawi are demanding better pay, piling pressure on President Joyce Banda.

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LILONGWE - Striking state workers in Malawi on Wednesday closed the main international airport in the capital Lilongwe over demands for better pay, piling pressure on President Joyce Banda who took office last year pledging painful economic reforms.

Kenya Airways and Ethiopian Airlines cancelled flights to Lilongwe.

More than 100,000 public sector workers went on strike last week demanding a 65 percent wage increase, about double the inflation rate, to counter a rising cost of living triggered by a devaluation of the kwacha currency.

The strike has closed schools and paralysed major hospitals, which are already short of health workers and medicine.

Finance Minister Ken Lipenga said on Tuesday that the government could not afford to increase wages and was negotiating with the striking workers.

Banda has instituted painful economic reforms backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and donors since winning office last year. Aid traditionally accounts for about 40 percent of the budget.

IMF mission chief to Malawi said there were "encouraging signs" that Malawi's economy is on the mend, with foreign exchange more available and good rains set to increase farm output.

The IMF also recommended cutting or postponing non-essential spending.

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