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Students besieged President’s convoy

Ellen ConvoyA multitude of protesting students besieged the Presidential Convoy outside the Monrovia City Hall in Monrovia, while departing from a function Thursday.

President Sirleaf’s happy fulfillment of a task of speaking at an intellectual forum, commemorating the 70th birth anniversary of Liberia’s Governance Commission Chairman, Dr. Amos C. Sawyer, did not last any longer yesterday, July 2, when she was compelled to disembark her official vehicle, facing a troubling siege from protesting students against closure of grade schools by July 31 this year.

The uniformed students mixed with other school-going youths peacefully stood in the President’s way and chanted slogans such as: “they must kill us! Everybody sits down,” among others.

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They persistently disallowed her convoy to drive through from the Monrovia City Hall resulting to her resolve to speak with them amid unending slogans.

Officers of the elite Executive Protective Service peacefully pulled back the students to create an enabling environment for the President- also heavily flanked by EPS officers, riot police and UN peacekeepers as she approached her temporary office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

She finally had a little more than ten minutes of talks with leaders of the protesters before the Foreign Ministry, while riot police guided the rest of the multitude of students by the fence of the state–run University of Liberia just opposite the ministry.

A man claiming to be head of the Montserrado County Student Union – Mohammed Donzo, told President Sirleaf that they were protesting because they had a document from the Ministry of Education, confirming that government would close all schools on July 31, disapproved by students and parents, while acknowledging their acceptance of government’s decision to reform the education system from “mess to best.” However, they said the reform was untimely.

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According to Donzo, from the inception of rumors of the closure of all grade schools, they had had series of consultation with authorities of the Ministry of Education, who he said, discounted any official document to close schools.

While allegedly being told that there was no official document from the Ministry, he claimed Information Minister Lewis Brown, defended the document in question, saying: “the Executive supported it; and it’s not a consultation anymore.”

Considering the economic constraints confronting parents immediately following the Ebola outbreak when government had no money to subsidize private schools, they said it was sadly unfortunate for government to announce premature closure of school after parents and guardians had struggled to pay school fees.

“Madam President, what we are saying- we know the reform is good for the education system; we all accept the reform. But we are saying it’s not timely, and the reform should concentrate more on public schools,” he insisted.

Though Donzo said the consultations were necessary, he appealed to the President for an extension of the government’s decision up to November to enable the Executive carry out more consultations to adequately prepare for the reform, while students continue their academic sojourn for the year.

But in response, President Sirleaf said the recent consultation involving top educators from both private and public schools was still ongoing so as to create a better learning condition for students.

She said the reform was intended to address issues of lack of books, libraries, laboratories, as well as proper sanitation, among others in many of the Liberian schools.

Madam Sirleaf also told the students that to take the approach of rioting and taking to the streets only send a wrong signal to everybody and makes it difficult for the government to find solution to satisfy them.

“You got to be able, when you have problem – you take your leadership group just like you; and you come to us and say this is our grievance-this is our petition. We’ld sit down and talk it; we’ld see how we can have … but the business about violence, the business about all these street demonstrations, create problems for us, then you make it difficult for us to help you,” she emphasized, stressing that such actions further make it difficult for the government to attract support needed by students to get better books and make sure that they can compete anywhere.

She said whatever policy reached by the government will apply across the board – private and public schools, while assuring that no parent will lose money paid to schools for their children. She further said the consultation would take place and at the end of the day, it has to be respected.

Concluding, President Sirleaf urged the protest leader to take his colleagues back home and return Friday (today), with a delegate to talk with her in the presence of Education Minister, George Werner.

Following the President’s departure from the scene, Protocol officers later escorted Donso and a few colleagues to hold formal talks with the Liberian leader in her office. Editing by George Barpeen

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