MADAGASCAR: Student protests hit universities

Student protests have disrupted universities during the past weeks, with student strikes and demonstrations hitting the Ecole Polytechnique of Vontovorona, the University of Fianarantsoa and the University of Toliara, where students took members of staff hostage for three days at the end of July.

At the Ecole Polytechnique de Vontovorona, where protests started in May, students organised a sit-in earlier this month demanding reimbursement of enrolment fees and payment of study grants, reported Midi-Madagasikara of Antananarivo.

Police intervened with teargas to disperse demonstrating strikers who had set up barriers on the campus, reported L'Express de Madagascar of Antananarivo. Earlier two students had been arrested, then released.

L'Express commented that the police had transgressed the university charter guaranteeing students freedom of expession; but the police said their action was justified, as they were "confronted by the non-respect of public security" by the students.

Last week, L'Express reported that the government and students came to an agreement, under which the state would reimburse surplus fees.

At Fianarantsoa, reported Midi-Madagasikara, students went on strike against non-payment of grants and demanding restoration of a nine-month academic year, which had been cut to six months because of teacher strikes. They committed acts of vandalism, locking campus gates and setting tyres and cars on fire, said the paper.

Students at the University of Toliara took 10 staff and members of their families hostage at the end of July as part of their protests demanding resignation of the university's president, Alphonse Dina, after a disciplinary committee decision to exclude 12 students for exam fraud, reported L'Express de Madagascar of Antananarivo.

Six children in the group were soon released, and the four remaining hostages were freed after three days following intervention by Prime Minister Camille Vital, reported L'Express. During negotiations with the students Vital promised no action would be taken against the kidnappers; and penalties against the 12 excluded students could be dropped - though this would depend on a decision by the higher education minister, Antoine Zafera Rabesa, said L'Express.

Tension remained at the university in the following days, when lecturers voted unanimously to suspend courses, reported L'Express de Madagascar. Dina announced the decision at a press conference, when he said the stoppage had been agreed to calm the atmosphere before the minister's visit.

But students were not pacified said L'Express, which reported student indignation at the lecturers' action.

With the threat of a wasted university year - which had started late following strike action by lecturers' union SECES and was now suspended at Toliara - each lost day was highly detrimental to students.

Many studets were complaining, especially those whose homes were far off and who had costs to pay but no courses to attend, said Midi Madagasikara.

Several days later, reported Midi Madagasikara, police arrested about 20 students following fights between groups of students at Toliara.

Meanwhile Rabesa had visited the university, and ordered that necessary measures to restart work should be taken.

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* This article is drawn from local media. University World News cannot vouch for the accuracy of the original reports.