Yeltsin backlash among students

May 1, 1998

A SENIOR official in Russia's Sverdlovsk region has resigned following forceful police action against a student demonstration in the capital, Yekaterinburg, last month.

Anatoly Gayda, deputy head of the regional government, with special responsibility for education, science and culture in the region, handed in his resignation at an extraordinary meeting of the regional government.

His action followed a statement by acting federal prime minister Sergey Kiriyenko attributing blame for the clashes solely to the regional authorities.

Regional governor Eduard Rossel has declared that he will not resign and will stand again next year despite the fact that his bloc won only 9.26 per cent of the votes in last month's regional elections.

At a meeting with students from the Urals Polytechnic Institute who had participated in the ill-fated rally, the governor hinted that the incident is being over-played by Moscow politicians as part of the on-going power struggle between Yekaterinburg and the central authorities. "Someone wants to see a new, pliant governor in the Urals," he said.

The Yekaterinburg demonstration, involving an estimated 3,000 students, was part of nationwide demonstrations against what the students see as Boris Yeltsin's betrayal of higher education. Despite the president's avowed support, they claim he has sacrificed the interests of universities and students by cutting university funding and student grants, raising hostel fees and introducing tuition fees in a vain attempt to balance his overall budget.

According to eye-witness reports, the Yekaterinburg demonstrators began by throwing snowballs at the windows of city hall. They then sent a delegation to talk to the city council about their economic grievances. The meeting was inconclusive and the demonstrators headed off to the regional government where they came face-to-face with riot police carrying shields and wielding batons. As the demonstrators approached government house, one police detachment suddenly began attacking the students. "They beat everyone they could, even those who were lying on the ground and even women," one female student told Russia's NTV correspondent. "All we want is to be able to live decently and study," another said.

The authorities eventually promised a number of working groups to monitor the distribution of budgetary funds in universities and higher education institutions. The following day, the city procurator's office opened an investigation into the clashes, and seven people, including one described as a teenage ex-riot-policeman, were temporarily detained.

In Moscow, Boris Mitin, rector of the Tsiolkovskiy University of Aviation Technology, condemned the police action as "fascism". He said it had "exploded a bomb" of student discontent that was "difficult to imagine". Russia's students had been silent for long enough, he warned, but Korean-type unrest might well be imminent.

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