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South Korea’s president meets leader of doctors’ strike as he seeks to end their walkouts

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol met the leader of a strike by thousands of junior doctors on Thursday and said that the government is open to talks about its contentious push to sharply increase medical school admissions.

The meeting was the first of its kind since more than 90% of the country’s 13,000 trainee doctors walked off the job in February, disrupting hospital operations. But there was still no immediate report of a breakthrough after the meeting.

During a lengthy televised public address Monday, Yoon defended his plan to recruit 2,000 more medical students each year, from the current cap of 3,058. But he said his government remains open to talks if doctors come up with a unified proposal that gives logical reasons for their calls for a much smaller hike of the enrollment quota.

On Thursday, Yoon met Park Dan, head of an emergency committee for the Korea Intern Resident Association, for more than two hours, during which “the president said he would respect the position of trainee doctors in the event of talks with the medical circle on medical reform issues including an increase of doctors,” according to Yoon’s office.

It didn’t say whether the government plans any immediate talks with the doctors and whether Yoon’s comments would mean he’s willing to lower the size of his proposed medical school admission increase. The strikers have earlier demanded the government withdraw the 2,000-student admission increase plan.

In a brief Facebook message posted after the meeting, Park wrote that “there is no future for the medical service of the Republic of Korea” without elaborating. Repeated calls to Park went unanswered. Another striker, Ryu Ok Hada, earlier accused Park of having