Sanaa protest sends students under tents

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SANAA: Kept out of classes because of a months-long anti-regime protest movement based just outside their campus, students at Sanaa University have been taking classes at a purpose-built tent camp.

Demonstrators pushing for President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ouster have since February been camped outside the main gate to the campus in northern Sanaa, an area which has been renamed "Change Square."

Yemenis loyal to the embattled leader have since erected a rival tent city at Tahrir (liberation) Square.

The university has joined the trend with some 2,800 students attending classes at their own camp to catch up with their studies.

More than 15 tents have been erected on the site of the university’s school of hotel management and the Yemeni Human Development Center to serve as a makeshift college for commerce, agriculture, languages, Islamic Sharia and law.

"It is a way to save the academic year," said Abdullah Hzam, head of information at Sanaa University. "Many students, especially those who are in their last year, need to graduate."

The area around the university campus became the epicenter of Yemen’s pro-democracy movement, while the nearby district of north Sanaa has been the scene of fierce clashes between foes and loyalists of Saleh.

Students at Sanaa University have been at the forefront of the uprising against Saleh, after launching protests in January to demand the ouster of the president who has been in power since 1978.

They were inspired by Tunisian and Egyptian protesters who forced their long-time autocratic presidents to step down.

Scores of tents were erected around the university for protesters, who poured in from across the country, leaving the campus inaccessible, and a field hospital for wounded protesters set up in the business school.

Hundreds of people have been killed in nine months of anti-Saleh protests, but the veteran president has resisted domestic and international pressures to quit.

Khaled Tamim, the rector of Sanaa University, said last week that formal classes would be resuming in hired halls of hotels as well as in tents, local media reported.

In the tents, meanwhile, scores of male and female students on plastic chairs take notes as lecturers give courses.

During breaks, students mingle between the tents, discussing the latest developments in their impoverished country, despite a deep rift in political views.

"Students are happy and enthusiastic and they are willing to learn and finish their studies. We have students from both camps, those with the pro- and anti-Saleh camps," said Hzam.

"So far they have been behaving well and we do not have any problems."

Some student protesters said they attend classes in the morning and head to Change Square for demonstrations in the afternoon.

"I’m with the youths of Change Square. We come here in the morning to continue our studies, and in the afternoon we go and join our comrades and continue our revolt," said Ahmad, declining to give his family name.

Students have to deal with the anxiety of travelling to the makeshift campus, a risky journey amid frequent clashes in the capital.

"We can understand when there are demonstrations and clashes that students and professors don’t come … But we cannot afford to move professors out of their apartments and put them in nearby apartments or compounds," Hzam said.

"The university’s budget is very low. Most students pay around 50,000 Yemeni riyals ($233) per year. Only students in medicine and engineering pay $1,500 for the school year," he added.


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