Students intensify protests

Greece’s universities were plunged into more trouble yesterday after a group of leftist students essentially held the rector of the University of Macedonia and 20 members of the institution’s senate hostage in an attempt to force them to recall a decision. The senate met yesterday morning to discuss the university’s four-year financial plan, when a group of students forced their way into the session and demanded that the rector, Ilias Kouskouvelis, withdraw the plan, which the school is required to submit by law. Kouskouvelis refused and the students locked him and the senate members in a room, demanding they change their minds. An eight-hour standoff followed before the students relented. Kouskouvelis used his mobile phone to call TV stations and inform them of the situation, complaining that «political protest has turned into common hostage taking.» The students, who belong to various leftist groups, issued a statement saying that the senate members were not hostages «but remain in the room because they refuse to rescind their decision.» The protesters argued that the vote on the four-year financial plan had been taken too quickly. Kouskouvelis accused some of the students of being members of youth organizations affiliated with the Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA). The government has called on SYRIZA several times to take a stand against extreme acts by students but the leftist party has limited itself to condemning violent behavior. Student groups affiliated with New Democracy and PASOK issued statements criticizing the incident at Macedonia University. Yesterday’s events cap a troubling week for Greece’s academic community after violent clashes last week led to the rector of Aristotle University in Thessaloniki being hospitalized with head injuries and two guards at the school being viciously attacked by a group of students. The protests have been triggered by the government’s insistence that it will see through its reforms in the tertiary education sector, which are based around a planned change in the law to allow private universities.