Australian police pepper-spray anti government protesting students
Dozens of university students protesting against the Australian government’s education reforms have been pepper-sprayed by police in Sydney.
Angry student protesters descended on the Sydney Masonic Center on Friday morning to disrupt a speech by Education Minister Christopher Pyne on the future of education in Australia.
Media reports say the police sprayed several students who managed to get into the building. The activists entered the building chanting “no cuts, no fees, and no corporate universities”.
No one has been arrested but at least five students were injured in clashes with the police.
The security forces also pepper-sprayed Anna Amelia, 23, a legally blind student from the University of New South Wales.
“I saw the orange spray which means it was close because on a good day I can only see two meters. Next thing everything was on fire and I couldn’t breathe,” media outlets quoted her as saying.
A protest organizer described the behavior by police as disgraceful, and vowed to continue demonstrations if their demands are not met
“We were pushed by police and I was pepper-sprayed right in the face, my face is on fire,” Ridah Hassan from the National Union of Students (NUS) said, adding, “We are determined to fight them and we are going to come out on March 25 to protest in our numbers to make sure they’re defeated for good.”
Students and union members are protesting against the government’s proposals, including the full deregulation of the higher education sector, a 20-percent cut to education funding, and a rise in the interest rates of student loans.
The protesters are particularly angry over a government proposal that lets universities set their own fees. The so-called reforms would allow universities to dictate the cost of degrees, following the same model adopted by the US education system.
Critics of the proposed model say it would leave students under the burden of crippling debts in future.