Guinea-Bissau students take the streets to demand open schools

About two hundred students from several Bissau schools rallied today outside the Government Palace to demand the reopening of public schools, which have been closed since October due to a teachers' strike.

The demonstration was called by several student organizations and was also attended by activists from the MCCI (Movement of Conscious and Nonconformist Citizens).

Badilé Sami, a spokesman for the students, said the demonstrators "were not intimidated" after being dispersed by police with tear gas grenades during a similar protest last week.

"We can't allow fear to stand in the way of our rights," said Badilé Sami, who has promised more protests until the government reaches an understanding with teachers and they return to school.

Among other things, teachers demand the entry into force of the teaching career statute (a document under consideration in Parliament), which was passed in 2011 but not yet implemented; the payment of several months of outstanding salaries; the admission of new teachers; and some overdue subsidies.

At a press conference, Prime Minister Aristides Gomes called on trade unions to understand the difficulties the country is facing and said that teachers are harming students and the country itself "with savage strikes" every 20 days.

Badilé Sami does not want to take sides in the controversy between trade unions and the prime minister. The only important thing, he says, is that "education is the life of a citizen," which means that the protests will continue until classes resume in Guinea-Bissau's public schools.

Young lawyer and MCCI leader Sana Canté, who was also involved in the demonstration, blames the government parties and Guinea-Bissau's President José Mário Vaz for the "disgraceful situation" the country's education system is facing.

According to Sana Canté, the so-called 'Nonconformists' joined the students' protests to tell politicians that young people "misti bai escola, suma sê fidjus" ("young people want to go to school just like the children of politicians").

Despite the presence of hundreds of police officers, no incidents were reported during today's demonstration, which started at Ajuda district and then marched towards the Government Palace.

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