Bulgarian teachers end strike after six weeks

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SOFIA, Nov 3 (Reuters) Bulgarian teachers agreed to end a pay strike that paralysed schools for six weeks but criticised the government's final offer, of a 46 per cent rise over eight months, as ''insufficient'', trade unions said.

The industrial action, the biggest in the Balkan country since communism collapsed in 1989, paralysed schools and kindergartens and put pressure on the government to boost living standards in the poorest European Union member.

Thousands of teachers will go back to classrooms on Monday after the Socialist-led government refused to improve its offer -- a gradual increase lifting the average monthly salary by 46 per cent to 650 levs (480 dollar) by July 2008.

''We decided to end the strike because of the children. The strike has had its impact, not to the extent that we wanted, but the fight will continue,'' Krum Krumov, leader of Podkrepa teachers union, was quoted as saying by Focus news agency yesterday.

The trade unions and the cabinet agreed on the 46 per cent rise last Friday, but more than half the striking teachers rejected the deal, demanding more. Trade union leaders appealed to them to accept the deal and avoid public outrage.

Teachers initially demanded a doubling of their salaries but the government said this would fuel inflation and jeopardise the economy. Bulgaria's consumer prices surged by 13 per cent on an annual basis in September.

The Balkan country's 7.8 million people have an average monthly salary of about 400 levs, the lowest pay in the EU. GDP per capita is around one third of the bloc's average.

REUTERS PD PM0858

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