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Chad’s finance minister says the country will not impose further cuts on civil servants’ pay this year, after strikes and protests erupted over one of the most unpopular measures in an austerity programme.

“There won’t be further cuts this year,” the finance and budget minister, Abdoulaye Sabre Fadoul, told AFP in an interview on Thursday.

The government last month reduced civil servants’ bonus pay by 50%, adding to a previous 50% cut in 2016.

Income tax was also hiked but “the lowest-income workers are now exempt” from it, Sabre Fadoul said.

The impoverished state is enforcing cuts in public spending that the finance ministry says are vital to stave off bankruptcy.

But the cuts have increased social tension and anger towards President Idriss Deby, in power since 1990.

Trade unions initiated an indefinite general strike in the state sector on January 29, and followed this with strikes in the private sector on Monday and Tuesday.

They also called for a “Day of Anger” on Thursday, but the protest drew only a meagre turnout amid tight security.

Chad’s economy has been badly hit by a downturn in the price of oil exports since 2015.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) opened up a three-year $312m credit line last June under a stabilisation programme.

Chad has received $48.8m of this but to gain access to a second tranche has to make progress in improving state finances.

It also has to conclude negotiations with the world’s biggest commodities trader, Glencore plc, over outstanding debts that Sabre Fadoul put at $1.36bn.

The country has 92 000 civil servants in a population of 15 million, according to the government.

It has vowed to carry out checks this year to see how many positions are occupied by “ghost” employees who get paid but do not work.

In 2017, public-sector salaries in 2017 totalled 376 billion CFA francs, roughly the equivalent of the combined revenue from income tax and customs duties, according to official figures given to AFP.

Nearly 40% of the population lives below the poverty line.

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