University woes intensify

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis defended himself in Parliament yesterday against fierce opposition criticism over upheaval in the education sector after another violent incident shook Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University. Two of the university guards were in hospital yesterday after suffering a serious beating at the hands of around 30 hooded assailants. The youths attacked the two men with clubs and large chunks of cement and undressed one of them. Alekos Alavanos, veteran deputy of the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA), described yesterday’s violence as «an insult to our culture and values» and attributed it to escalating tension in the higher education sector for which he blamed Karamanlis personally. «The government and the prime minister himself inspired and are promoting a systematic attempt to sabotage (universities),» Alavanos said. The remark prompted an uncharacteristically sharp response from the PM, who referred to «a case of the pot calling the kettle black.» Karamanlis insisted that yesterday’s attack on the two university guards – and Wednesday’s assault on the rector of the same university – had been inspired by small groups of troublemakers, not by the majority of students. The attack on the guards was probably the work of «an unknown gang,» he said. Aristotle University rector Anastassios Manthos, who was knocked out during a student protest on campus on Wednesday, also expressed his conviction yesterday that yesterday’s attack on the two guards had been carried out «by underworld figures, not by students.» Manthos described his university as being «under siege» and «in a state of emergency,» claiming that certain non-students were attempting to take advantage of the freedom afforded by university immunity to cause problems. Meanwhile in Athens and Thessaloniki students staged peaceful protests expressing their opposition to reforms in the education sector. During his speech in Parliament yesterday, Karamanlis insisted that these reforms – envisaging stricter assessment of state universities and the creation of private ones – would go ahead. «We are obliged to challenge the absolute power of certain self-serving individuals who have secured niches (in the university system) and to allow… non-profit organizations to exploit opportunities,» Karamanlis said.