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Chernobyl Cleanup Workers Stage Hunger Strike

21 February 2005 -- More than 200 former cleanup workers of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear catastrophe entered a fourth day of hunger strike today in Russia's central Tula region, south of Moscow.

The protesters demand that they continue to receive in-kind social benefits, such as free health treatment, and that the state cover two month-invalidity pension arrears.

The Russian government last year decided that in-kind social benefits should be replaced with cash payments.

The new regulation, which came into effect on 1 January 2005, has sparked massive protests across Russia.

In some regions, local authorities have promised to restore free public transportation and subsidized medicine for pensioners.