South African tuition protests escalate

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images (1)Protests over plans to increase university tuition in South Africa escalated Friday in Pretoria, with demonstrators throwing rocks at riot officers and police responding with stun grenades and water cannons.

A small group appeared responsible for the violence, which included setting fire to public toilets at the protest site outside government offices, where leaders were meeting to discuss the issue.

Busloads of South African students had gathered in Pretoria to demand lower tuition during talks with President Jacob Zuma.

The students’ demands include scrapping fee increases. Initially, the tuition was to go up by 10%, but the government lowered the increase to 6%.

More than a dozen universities are shut down because of the protests. Students are using the hashtag #FeesMustFall to rally on social media.

Zuma was to meet with student leaders and professors Friday in an effort to quell the growing protests.

Zuma said fees are determined by universities independently, but he’s looking forward to hearing the students’ concerns.

“It is important that we work together to find solutions,” he said in a statement. “Nobody disagrees with the message that students from poor households are facing financial difficulties and possible exclusion.”

Protests over the issue have raged since Monday. Earlier, protesters barricaded entrances to campuses, including the University of Cape Town and University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

On Wednesday, students stormed the South African Parliament in Cape Town, trapping lawmakers.

They pushed past guards and pried open gates. Once inside parliamentary grounds, they sat in front of the building to block lawmakers from getting out.

Students clashed with the police, whom they accused of using tear gas to disperse crowds.

At the time, the South African Police Service said it had arrested six students for “illegal protests” in Cape Town.

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