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Zimbabwe's public sector union backs down on strike, says situation is volatile

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HARARE (Reuters) - Zimbabwe's umbrella public sector union has backed down from plans for a national strike, an official said on Thursday, citing the volatile situation in the country after violent protests this month were met by a security crackdown.

Wage negotiations between the government and the Apex Council, which represents 17 public sector unions, broke down on Wednesday. The unions then met to decide a date for a strike and announce it this week but the talks ended in disarray.

Government workers are demanding wage rises and payments in dollars to help them stave off spiralling inflation and an economic crisis that has sapped supplies of cash, fuel and medicines in state hospitals.

"Apex feels that its not conducive to take action," Cecilia Alexander, Apex Council's chairwoman told Reuters.

"The situation is volatile and polarized and the action we take may be hijacked for issues which have nothing to do with labour."

Unions have traded accusations of being paid by the opposition and donors to go on strike and cause violence.

A three-day strike called by another union from Jan. 14 over a sharp fuel price hike by President Emmerson Mnangagwa turned into violence and looting. Rights groups say at least 12 people were killed but police say only three died.

The events of the past two weeks exposed the instinctive heavy-handedness of security forces, leading many to say that Mnangagwa is reverting to the strongarm tactics used by his predecessor Robert Mugabe, who was removed in a coup in 2017.

Teachers, who make the biggest bloc in the 305,000 civil service, will walk out from their jobs on Feb. 5, the biggest teachers union has said.

(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by James Macharia and Angus MacSwan)

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