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Portuguese nurses’ ‘white march’ protest takes over Lisbon streets

LISBON (Reuters) – Dressed in white and holding white flowers, thousands of nurses marched through Lisbon on Friday in a show of unity to demand better pay and working conditions and protest the Portuguese government’s poor handling of the long-running dispute.

Police estimated some 6,000 women and men, many of whom were bussed in from across the country, took part in the “white march” to honor the profession on International Women’s Day.

The march organizers put the number at 10,000.

“What we wanted to achieve with this march has been achieved. We have at least 10,000 people, a beautiful wave of humans dressed in white, which shows the unity in our profession,” said Sonia Viegas, one of the organizers from the National Movement of Nurses.

Some of the placards carried by the nurses said: “No fear!” “We shall fight!”, and “No to the blackmail” in a reference to the government’s negotiating stance.

Last month, nurses staged a three-week strike, forcing the postponement of around 5,000 scheduled surgical operations, according to government figures. A similar strike last year led to the cancellation of around 7,500 surgeries.

The strike was suspended on Feb. 22 when the government agreed to resume talks with the unions after having declared the labor action unlawful and threatened penalties for strikers.

The first round of talks took place on Thursday, during which the government signed a protocol for the negotiation of a collective work agreement for nurses, but Sindepor, one of the two main nurses unions, was quick to call a new strike in April.

It said it would cancel the planned strike if the talks with the government are constructive.

The next meeting is scheduled for March 21.

Reporting by Catarina Demony and Miguel Pereira; Writing by Andrei Khalip; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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