By Peter Stevenson
TROUBLE flared up briefly yesterday morning when high school students taking part in a protest against the introduction of new bus fares clashed with riot police near the Hilton hotel in Nicosia.
The incident happened at 11am on Makarios Avenue at the traffic lights next to the Apoel clubhouse when students from the nearby technical school stopped two buses, blocking off the road.
Police in riot gear were on hand as students began throwing rocks. Order was quickly restored but a police presence remained in the area in case of further outbreaks.
Secondary school students, supported by the teachers unions OELMEK and OLTEK, walked out of their classrooms during the third period to protest against the imposition of a €15 monthly fare.
“Our parents can’t put food on the table, their salaries have been cut, many of them are now unemployed and we are being asked to pay €15 a month for the bus fare,” said, Panayiotis Monoyios, head of the student body PSEM.
The student body had said on Wednesday that the new €15 fare for secondary school students introduced on Tuesday was another blow to the education system.
“We say that education is free but it is anything but that. Our actions today are not a threat but a cry of despair and hopelessness,” he said.
Monoyios added that if their protest fell on deaf ears then bigger protests would be organised.
Petros Koulermos, head of the secondary students’ parents association who was also protesting said that the actions were an attempt to pressure the state to rescind the ‘unjust’ measures which parents are essentially having to shoulder.
“We have begun a series of measures to pressure the government as much as we can because the list of needy families is growing every day,” he said.
Koulermos said that since the new scheme was introduced on Tuesday, many students have not been able to get to school.
Kyriacos Shakallis of the national Coordinating Committee for Technical Schools said that the new scheme is affecting technical schools more as parents of these students tend to earn lower wages and some have to travel large distances to school.
“During the first two days, technical schools did not operate normally as only half the students showed up at school,” he said.
Shakallis said he was appalled by bus drivers who allowed students on the buses without paying the fee and then in the middle of the route the conductor would come and demand the fee or force the student to get off the bus.
“Technical schools will take action. We have been warning the Minister since July,” he said.
Shakallis said that a meeting will be held today and in all likelihood a decision could be reached to close all technical schools.
The House Communications Committee is expected to discuss the issue next week. Communications Minister Tasos Mitsopoulos, Education Minister Kyriacos Kenevezos and Labour Minister Zeta Emilianidou will be present.
The Committee met yesterday and chairman Antonis Antoniou said that deputies believe changes can be made to make the new scheme more fair. He said the matter of parents who have been unemployed for a long term and cannot afford the new bus fare needs to be discussed.
DISY MP Zacharias Zachariou said that the scheme needs to be better targeted at what parents earn. He suggested that students whose parents are unemployed or who belong to vulnerable groups should be exempt as it is not only parents who receive welfare benefits that are in need.