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Students, Police Clash over School Budget

May 21, 2004

GRANADA, Nicaragua – Mountingtension over the education budget eruptedinto street battles this week, as hundreds ofNicaraguan university students clashed violentlywith riot police in university citiesaround the country, resulting in one death,some 30 injuries and a dozen arrests.The most violent fighting occurredMonday in the cities of Managua andJinotepe, 46 kilometers south of the capital,where students and police exchanged fire formost of the day in a virtual urban war.University students also took to thestreets – albeit less violently – in the northwestdepartment of León and the southernAtlantic coast town of Bluefields, whereno arrests or injuries were reported.WEARING bandanas and gas masks,students from the National Universityoccupied the main road in front of downtownManagua’s Metrocentro shoppingmall and the surrounding area, firinghomemade mortars and throwing rocksand Molotov cocktails at riot police. Policereturned fire with rubber bullets and teargas, as students dug up the road bricks tobuild barricades.The fighting was even more intense inJinotepe, where armed students from theAgricultural University attempted to storma police station. The ensuing battle leftdozens injured, several critically. Onepolice officer, Róger Rodríguez, 28, diedof internal bleeding Tuesday morning afterbeing shot in the chest with a homemademortar the day before.In both cities, there were reports oflive weapon fire. According to the hospitals,at least three students were hospitalizedMonday with AK-47 bullet wounds,including one student with a criticalwound to his lungs. Both sides denyusing live weapon rounds.JULIO Vega, Minister of the Interior,appealed for calm and lamented that thesituation would damage the internationalimage of Nicaragua. He blamed the universityrectors for inciting the violencethat led to the police officer’s death, andvowed to take legal action against theintellectual authors.The State Prosecutor’s Office promisedto investigate the incident in Jinotepe andclaimed it could prosecute those foundresponsible for acts of terrorism. Police havealready provided an alleged hidden-cameravideo revealing a group of 10 students makinghomemade mortars.Protest leader Yassir Martínez, presidentof the Nicaraguan Students’ Union,told The Tico Times this week via cellphone that the street fighting was a “totalsuccess” and that only the government is toblame for the violence.MARTÍNEZ said the street protestswill continue until the government complieswith the Constitutional obligation toprovide public education with 6% of thegovernment’s annual budget expenditures.According to calculations by theNational University Council, 6% comesout to $59.6 million. The government,however, claims the universities are budgetedto receive in funds and subsidizedutilities the equivalent of $50.9 million –an amount it says comes out to 7.5% ofthe total budget.The government is blaming the discrepancyin the budget calculations on erroneouscalculations by the National UniversityCouncil, as a result of including the deficit(foreign loans, donations and foreign debtservice) in their budget calculations.Law set the education budget at 6% in1992. Since then, street fighting betweenpolice and students has become an almostannual event.THE National Assembly remainsdivided on a proposal to reform the budgetand increase education spending. DanielOrtega, secretary general of the oppositionleft-wing Sandinista National LiberationFront, has thrown his party’s supportbehind the students, claiming that the governmenthas the money to fund the 6%education budget.The ruling Liberal Constitutional Party,meanwhile, claims there is no more moneyfor education, and reforming the budget tomeet the students’ demands would meanstrangling other public programs.

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