Protests by students slide into violence

Fresh protests yesterday by students opposing education reforms escalated into violence at universities in Piraeus and Thessaloniki, resulting in several injuries and the rector of the Aristotle University being hospitalized with concussion. The trouble in Thessaloniki began when a group of around 200 leftist students burst into a hall where the Aristotle University’s senate had been discussing the budget for the next academic year. According to witnesses, the students tried to grab the minutes of the meeting from the senate’s secretary and in the scuffle that ensued the rector, Anastassios Manthos, was punched and fell, hitting his head on the ground. Witnesses said they saw one protester trying to strangle the rector. Manthos was taken to hospital where doctors said he had suffered mild concussion but no serious injuries. Reacting to the incident later yesterday, Education Minister Evripidis Stylianidis remarked, «This act of violence against an elected principal is totally unacceptable,» adding that the actions were «an insult to democracy.» The minister stressed that planned reforms would go ahead. The university’s Deputy Rector Athanassia Tsatsakou condemned «the violent abuse of university immunity and the attempt to silence the senate and the free exchange of ideas.» Authorities decided to suspend teaching at the faculty where the outburst occured until tension had died down. Meanwhile there was also violence in Piraeus. Leftist students clashed with members of pro-government factions outside the local technical university, resulting in three injuries. The leftists had been trying to disrupt rector elections, as part of their broader campaign against reforms, but were barred by students affiliated with the ruling New Democracy party. Students hurled petrol bombs at their rivals, damaging at least one car. Protests are expected to continue over the next few days as more rector elections, and protest marches, are scheduled. Earlier this week protesters stole ballot boxes to disrupt rector’s elections at the technical colleges of Athens and Piraeus and at the University of Crete while others have staged occupations on campus. University professors are due to begin a 48-hour strike tomorrow to protest ongoing upheaval in the education sector.