Gambian police open fire on student demonstration

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The Independent Online

Police opened fire on a student demonstration on Monday, killing at least nine people, including a journalist in the West African city of Banjul.

The Gambia Students Union was denied a permit for the march organized in protest against the recent death of a high school student, who was allegedly tortured by security force members, and the reported rape of a 13-year-old girl by a police officer.

When students gathered at the gate of the Gambia Technical Training Institute to march to the city center, police ordered them to disperse, then opened fire with tear gas and rubber bullets.

The students scattered, but later regrouped, setting up barricades with burning rubber tires in the streets and throwing stones at the police.

Government buildings were attacked, a police station set on fire and stores looted as unemployed youths joined in the fray.

Police apparently used live ammunition to restore order, killing at least eight students, morgue officials said. Many more were injured, though hospital staff did not have exact figures.

Omar Barrow, an International Committee of the Red Cross volunteer and journalist with the private Sud FM radio station, was hit by a stray bullet while trying to help injured students at Red Cross headquarters, witnesses said.

"This is a criminal act which should not go unpunished," said human rights activist Ebrima Jallow.

The government blamed student leaders for the rioting in a statement issued Monday afternoon, and ordered the immediate closure of all schools until further notice. Dozens of students were arrested.

An uneasy calm prevailed Monday night, as police and soldiers maintained a heavy presence in the city's largely deserted streets.

President Yahya Jammeh's government regularly harasses and arrests opponents, including journalists and politicians.

Jammeh seized power in July 1994 and was elected to office two years later in voting that was widely questioned by international observers and opposition groups.

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