Sulaimani student protest turns violent

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region - University students protested in Sulaimani on Monday, calling for restoration of a government study allowance. The protest turned violent with police using force against the demonstrators.

The governor’s office issued a call for peace, adding it would pass along the students’ demands to the ministry of higher education.

Hundreds of public university students in Sulaimani took to the streets of the city for the second day in a row calling for student allowances from the government, a right they claim they have been stripped of.

The students gathered in front of Sulaimani university campus, blocking the main road.

"Every student has the right to their allowance that has been taken away since 2013. We want all students to support each other,” one student told Rudaw in front of the university.

"Sadly, the university has brought the police. Yesterday they used electric batons and chased students away.”

The government used to pay a monthly allowance of 60,000 to 100,000 dinars per student.

This was one of the expenses the government cut when it introduced austerity measures like salary cuts to cope with a financial crisis caused by the war with the Islamic State (ISIS), low oil prices, and budget disputes with Baghdad. 

"We have students in the dormitories. They are five people in a dorm room and she washes everyone’s clothes just so she doesn’t have to pay for the room,” a woman said about a fellow student.

The protests turned violent and videos shared on social media showed riot police confronting students. The Metro Center for Journalists Rights and Advocacy condemned the violence, stating that police used electric batons and teargas on the students.

Sulaimani police said some of the protesters were not students and blamed them for instigating violence.

"They started throwing stones at civil forces and attacking them with brass knuckles and as a result conflict and confusion was created. Some officers and students were injured with sticks and stones,” the police said in a statement published on Facebook. 

They added that the injured had been treated and were stable, and urged students "not to let suspicious people ruin their civil activities.”

The governor of Sulaimani expressed his support for the students’ demands and called for calm.

"As the Sulaimani governorate, we support all your rightful requests and stand against any violent encounter from any side.

We have delivered your request to the minister of higher education and scientific research and all responsible authorities and ask that your requests be responded to as soon as possible,” Haval Abubakir said in a Facebook statement.

The ministry of higher education has not immediately commented on the protests. 

Lahur Talabany, ousted co-chair of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the ruling party in Sulaimani, called the violence a "black stain on the government" and urged students to protest peacefully.

Monday evening, students were again protesting outside the University of Sulaimani. The university's presidency issued a statement condemning "any violence" and said they would conduct and investigation.

The university added that the students' demands have been discussed "many times” by the council of ministers and relevant ministries.

The ministry of finance said the suspension of the allowances was done through a decision of the council of ministers and that it is the responsibility of the ministry of higher education. 

This is not the first time Sulaimani students have protested. In March, grade 12 students gathered in front of the education directorate calling for education reforms. Security forces fired live ammunition into the air to disperse the demonstrators.

Last December, teachers and other civil servants protested to demand full payment of their salaries that had been slashed under the austerity measures.

They had not been paid in full or on time for most of the year. Large protests took place in numerous towns in Halabja and Sulaimani provinces. Eight civilians and two Peshmerga were killed.


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