Security forces tear gas protesters in Ivory Coast

AP News
Posted: May 13, 2013 11:01 AM

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast (AP) — Security forces in Ivory Coast used teargas to disperse hundreds of students demonstrating Monday against overcrowded classrooms and empty libraries at the country's largest university, sending at least two students to the hospital with injuries, according to witnesses.

The demonstration had been timed to coincide with an appearance on campus by Higher Education Minister Cisse Ibrahima Bacongo, said literature student Josue Kwame, who took part in the demonstration. When the minister took the microphone to speak, students began shouting him down. The minister and other officials quickly fled into an administrative building.

For the next half hour police lobbed at least six rounds of tear gas at the demonstrators, some of whom wore bright red headbands and armbands to signal their frustration with conditions at the university, named after President Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the country's first president.

The campus, which serves some 60,000 students, was reopened amid much fanfare last September after being closed for 18 months following Ivory Coast's near-civil war following the contested 2010 election. In the years preceding the conflict, it was overrun by student groups that were in fact armed militias accused of extortion and violent crimes such as assault and rape, according to reports by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

While significant infrastructure upgrades were made before the university's reopening, students regularly complain about overcrowded classrooms, a lack of books in the campus's two libraries, poor transportation and other problems.

"The minister had nothing to say about this, and that's why we were shouting at him," Kwame said, when asked why the demonstration got out of hand. "We students don't want the ministers coming here trying to say everything is all right."

An Associated Press reporter saw two students being taken away in ambulances, though the nature of their injuries was unclear. Before finally dispersing, the students raided a spot where lunch was provided for the VIPs.