Security fury at Wits after clashes over Peres visit

September 13, 2002

The University of Wi****ersrand has protested at the failure of organisers to involve it in security arrangements for a meeting to be addressed by Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres.

South African police and Palestinian activists clashed after local Jewish Board members blocked protesters from a university venue where Mr Peres was to speak.

Sixteen activists, including academic Salim Vally, were arrested during clashes as the World Development Summit drew to a close last week outside the University of the Wi****ersrand (Wits) College of Education and a police station.

Wits expressed anger that the South African Jewish Board of Deputies and South African Zionist Federation, which quietly booked a college auditorium, failed to make clear Mr Peres was the speaker. The event was billed as a public lecture.

"It was an all-ticket event and the arrangements regarding security on our property were determined with no notification or involvement whatsoever of any staff of the university," Norma Reid, Wits's vice-chancellor, said.

"We deeply regret and are deeply incensed by the fact that some of our staff and students were prevented from gaining access to our education campus for their normal and other academic purposes. We also greatly regret that people were injured."

The Palestinian Solidarity Committee said 100 supporters demonstrated spontaneously after Mr Vally, acting director of the Wits Education Policy Unit, was denied access to a meeting on campus with academics from Sussex University.

Police used water cannon, rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse a march to the police station where Mr Vally had been taken.

Police said the protest was unauthorised and the crowd had hurled stones at them.

A talk Mr Peres was to give at the South African Institute of International Affairs was cancelled on security service advice.

* Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to cancel a speech at Montreal's Concordia University after a pro-Palestinian demonstration turned violent, writes Philip Fine.

Some of the 200 demonstrators attacked guests, smashed windows and tossed furniture at police who fired pepper spray. Five people were arrested.

A Concordia Jewish student group invited Mr Netanyahu to counteract "propaganda" from Arab students.

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