PUERTO RICO: Archbishop calls for police restraint

The archbishop of San Juan, Roberto Gonzalez Nieves, has criticised what he believes was an excessive use of force by police against students and workers protesting at a political meeting.

The protest was outside a fund-raising event at the Hotel Sheraton in the capital San Juan for the New Progressive Party, attended by Puerto Rico's Governor Luis Fortuno, President of the PNP. It resulted in five people being arrested and several others wounded after police sprayed demonstrators with pepper spray. Puerto Rico's Governor Luis Fortuno, president of the PNP, was at the event.

The protest follows a student demonstration in mid-May, which led to San Juan police and Puerto Rican security forces laying siege to the Rio Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico, in violation of a long-standing tradition of autonomy of all UPR campuses.

Gonzalez Nieves said: "We wish to express our most forceful rejection of the physical aggression used against demonstrators by members of the Puerto Rico police."

He added that the only legitimate use of violence in the civil sphere was "in cases of legitimate self-defence".

Gonzalez Nieves called for the police to be given urgent training in mediation and conflict management and said the authorities should instruct police not to use force against peaceful demonstrators. He called on demonstrators to work together to avoid "any kind of physical contact".

The protests are part of a wave of demonstrations against education cuts which have included a 24-hour general stoppage organised by unionised workers and a protest by more than 8,000 workers, community leaders, performing artists, musicians and members of the public.

Students at the university's Rio Piedras campus have been on strike since 22 April. They are demanding that tuition waivers and other benefits and services be spared from budget cuts. Students at 10 of the 11 university campuses are also on strike.