PNG: Protesting students ordered to return to class

2 Sept – Students at Goroka University in Papua New Guinea have been given until next Monday to return to classes after weeks of boycotts.

The Minister for Higher Education, Malakai Tabar, has this week suspended the vice chancellor Dr Gairo Onagi, a move the students had been demanding.

The minister also dismissed the university council after deciding it had not fulfilled its role.

A Higher Education Department official, Charles Mabia, says an interim council has been put in place and students have been given an ultimatum to return to class.

“The Minister is now calling on the students to return back to classes on the 7th of September. See, if they don’t return to classes the university may not see the completion of the academic year successfully.”

More than three weeks of protests culminated last week in a street march in Goroka by a group of 1,000 students.

Police, who say the march was illegal, fired into the students to disperse them.

Students gather at the University of Goroka

Earlier this year, on August 28 police shot and wounded two students at the University of Goroka during protests over the resignation of the university’s vice chancellor.

The provincial police commander, Superintendent John Kale, had claimed that the protest was illegal and police set up a road block to stop it from progressing.

Mr Kale says stones were thrown at officers, who then discharged their firearms at the crowd.

Long-time resident Sarah Shelley said the large crowd of students were chanting “no VC no UNI” and that as soon as the group made its way to the Post Office there were met by police.

“Police and protestors started clashing. Then police opened fire to disperse the crowd.”

She said this lasted between 15 to 20 minutes and the crowd retreated to the campus.”

“It was intense and there was a lot of gunfire,” she added.

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Campus property was damaged by angry students who say they will continue the protest until the Vice Chancellor Dr Gairo is removed.

Images posted on Facebook showed damage to the campus, including broken windows and kitchen appliances on fire.

Two students were shot and taken to hospital.

A smashed fixtures is seen at the University of Goroka

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