Student dies in violent Sierra Leone university protests

2017-03-24 18:31
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Freetown - A student has been killed and several others injured at a university near Sierra Leone's southern city of Bo after police fired tear gas and live bullets during protests over a lecturers' strike, police sources told AFP.

Lecturers at Njala University have been on strike since October, the beginning of the academic year, over unpaid wages and pensions, triggering protests there and in three other cities on Thursday.

Michael Kelly Dumbuya, a police spokesperson, told AFP that "during attempts to disperse the students the police fired tear gas and bullets after some of the protesters started to vandalise properties" at protests at the university and at a campus in nearby Bo.

Dumbuya confirmed that Peter Tiffa, a secondary school student, had been killed and that several others had received treatment for bullet wounds at a Bo government hospital.

Some of the 35 people arrested were to appear in court on Friday over offences allegedly committed during the Njala University protests and at related demonstrations in the city of Kenema and in the capital, Freetown, he added.

A protest in Makeni in support of the university demonstrators was peaceful, Dumbuya said.

Most students had already paid their fees for the year when the strike began, according to Njala University students contacted by AFP, leaving them out of classes for months.

In a statement late on Thursday, the government called on Sierra Leoneans to avoid violence at demonstrations, saying that such behaviour "will be met with swift and the full force of the law."

The government said negotiations were continuing with university staff and the administration to resolve the dispute.

Philip Foday Yamba Thulla, speaking on behalf of the lecturers' association, told AFP that Njala University had been unable to pay wages since 2015, and pensions since 2012.

"The affected lecturers and retirees are in their hundreds, and the government has been reneging in their duty to fulfil their promise to the Academic Staff Association," Thulla said.

The university administration, he added, had "failed us completely".

The government has called for a crisis meeting to be held on Monday, but the lecturers have not yet said if they will attend.

Read more on:    sierra leone  |  west africa

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