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Peru announces reforms to 'improve lives' as protests rock neighbouring countries

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By Maria Cervantes

SANTIAGO (Reuters) – Peru’s government on Wednesday announced plans for an ambitious reform package including better health care and a higher minimum wage amid regional protests against market reforms and social injustice that have rocked neighbours Ecuador and Chile.

President Martin Vizcarra dissolved Peru´s opposition-controlled legislature last month amid a long-running standoff with lawmakers over anti-corruption reforms.

The move, although contested in Peru’s courts, was widely supported by Peruvians and opened the door for Vizcarra to push through reforms.

Prime Minister Vicente Zeballos said the government hoped to inject $270 million into the country’s healthcare system to improve the quality of care. It also approved a decree to provide access to generic medications at any pharmacy, and another to guard against anti-trust violations that could impact consumer rights.

Zeballos added the government would push early next year to boost the minimum wage. Officials were also evaluating boosting pensions for state workers, he said.

“We’re developing policies to attend to urgent needs…to allow us to improve the every day lives of Peruvians,” Zeballos said.

With economic growth slowing sharply throughout the region, job security has begun to fray and holes in social safety nets are widening, prompting a wave of recent protests.

Demonstrations in Chile over inequality spun out of control last week, leading to the death of 18 people and the arrest of more than 7,000.

The protests in Chile came hot on the heels of violent demonstrations in Ecuador sparked by a proposed cut to decades-old fuel subsidies, which forced the government to temporarily relocate the capital to Guayaquil.

(Reporting by Maria Cervantes, writing by Dave Sherwood, editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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