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South Korea's Yoon hints at flexibility in doctors' strike as election looms

SEOUL — South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol showed the first signs of flexibility in his medical reform plan as a prolonged standoff with doctors is ramping up pressure ahead of next week's parliamentary elections which are expected to be close.

The plan, chiefly aimed at boosting medical school admissions by 2,000 from 3,000 starting in 2025, has emerged as a key issue in the elections, in which Yoon's ruling party seeks to recapture a majority in the opposition-controlled parliament.

A drawn-out walkout by thousands of trainee doctors nationwide in protest at the plan is increasingly putting strains on the country's healthcare system.

Yoon, who has taken a hard line approach to labour disputes, had been initially been emboldened by polls showing South Koreans overwhelmingly support the idea of adding more doctors.

But as medical school professors and community doctors cut working hours this week and threatened to resign en masse unless the government negotiates, some voters have started to blame Yoon for refusing to seek a compromise.

What is Yoon saying?

On Monday, Yoon for the first time signalled a possibility for adjusting the reform initiative in a 50-minute public address, saying his administration is open to talks with doctors if they offer a "reasonable, unified" alternative proposal.

Yoon denied considering "political gains and losses" in pushing for any reform.

A senior presidential official said Yoon meant to express his willingness to be "flexible" in implementing the policy regardless of the elections.

The Korean Medical Association, the largest grouping of doctors, said Yoon's speech was "disappointing" and failed to fully address the industry's concerns including better work conditions and legal