Ambassador 'called police to beat students'

August 14, 1998

STUDENTS from the West African Republic of Benin studying at the Hassan II Royal University in Rabat, capital of Morocco, were beaten by police after occupying their country's embassy, their leaders claimed on returning to their home country.

The students were protesting at the Benin education ministry's failure to pay agreed food and health allowances and return tickets for the holidays.

Under the umbrella of the Association of Beninois Trainees and Students in Morocco they petitioned their home government about their plight.

In October 1997 they complained about the non-payment of their food and health allowances and the issuing of return tickets. The ministry was explicitly committed to meet these costs in the scholarship awards issued before they travelled to Morocco.

Leopold Gnancadja, one of the students who was injured in the attack and who has since returned to Cotonou, capital of Benin, said from his hospital bed at the University Teaching Hospital: "Despite several letters we wrote and meetings we held with our ambassador, nobody cared to examine our complaints. After having exhausted all peaceful and legal channels, we decided as a last resort to organise an indefinite sit-in inside our embassy."

Fidel Koukponou, another student, accused the ambassador, Yasso Alassane, of being responsible for the clash between the Moroccan police and the protesting students.

"The ambassador invited the police to forcibly evacuate us from the embassy. About 100 police armed with tear gas and batons started raining blows on us. They chased us right back into the university campus." Four students are still being treated for injuries at the university clinic in Rabat. Others have been discharged from the hospital.

Ministry of education officials have refused to comment but sources close to President Mathieu Kerekou said he has told the education minister to resolve the students' plight quickly.

Soon after this incident, students from Niger simultaneously occupied their country's embassies in Tripoli (Libya), Rabat (Morocco) and Tunis (Tunisia).

Equipped with mattresses and cooking utensils in anticipation of a lengthy protest, they sent a uniform statement stating that as a result of non-payment of their scholarships for several months they have been reduced to beggars and destitutes.

"We shall not leave the embassies until our demands are met. We are demanding flight tickets so that we can go home and live decently with our parents," declared Ibrahim Mohammed, one of the student leaders.

Niger's minister of education, Bouba Oumarou, admitted that the students had not been paid their grants for several months. "We will do our best in the next few weeks to satisfy the students' 'demands. And when we are in a position to do so, we shall definitely repatriate some," he declared.

After students from Niger occupied their country's embassy in Abidjan, capital of Cote d'Ivoire, students there also took to the streets to press home their long-standing demands. Their peaceful protests aimed at the presidency were repelled by armed police with tear gas. One of the students' grievances was the "refusal" of the government to build another university campus after president Konan Bedie approved the conversion of the campus at Youpougon into a police barracks.

"Although there is a temporary lull, there are fears that the violence and clashes with police might escalate on the various campuses across francophone African countries when the next session starts in October," warned Stephen Moudachirou, a sociology teacher at the National University in Cotonou. "If the students' expectations are not met, the campuses might become ungovernable as students return."

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