Government warns students; gangs smash education ministry windows

Government warns students; gangs smash education ministry windows

Associated Press 04/17/2001



 ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) - Students at the University of Addis Ababa defied a government ultimatum Tuesday to return to classes while gangs of youths smashed windows at the Ministry of Education and adjacent buildings.


Students have been holding a weeklong protest to demand that campus police in Addis Ababa be replaced by private security guards.


The government on Tuesday reacted by telling students to end their protest or face expulsion after talks between student representatives and Education Minister Guenet Zewdie broke down Monday.


 "Students who fail to attend classes by noon Wednesday will be considered as having voluntarily withdrawn from the university and will not be readmitted," the ultimatum said.


  On Tuesday, staged peaceful sit-ins as police watched. Gangs of youths later gathered outside the university gates, then headed for the Ministry of Education where they smashed windows with stones before police dispersed them.


It was not clear whether there was any relation between the gangs and the students, and police would not answer reporters' questions about the incident.


Education Minister Guenet said Monday the government had agreed in theory to the switch to civilian security guards but said selection and training would take time. The students demanded that she set a deadline which Guenet said she was unauthorized to do.


Protests and street demonstrations have been rare in Ethiopia since the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front came to power in 1991.


Student unrest in the mid-1960s and 1970s preceded violent upheavals in Ethiopia that forced the country's last emperor, Haile Selassie, to institute reforms and ultimately led to his ouster in 1974. Students were also influential in organizing resistance to the military regime that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to May 1991.


 Last month, the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi confirmed reports of a power struggle within the Tigray People's Liberation Front, the core group of the EPRDF, and the expulsion of 12 of its members due to disagreement over the conduct of Ethiopia's 2 1/2-year border war with Eritrea.