Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Clashes erupt on St. Joseph University campus after students hang banner in tribute to slain industry minister

Clashes erupt on St. Joseph University campus after students hang banner in tribute to slain industry minister
By Nour Samaha and Iman Azzi
Daily Star staff

BEIRUT: Clashes broke out Monday between students at St. Joseph University after supporters of assassinated minister Pierre Gemayel hung his poster from a classroom window. On their first day back following the mourning period, students belonging to the March 14 Forces declared Monday to be a day of memorial for the deceased minister, and placed candles and a huge banner at the USJ campus on Monot Street. However, "the opposition," made up of Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Hizbullah supporters, who recently won the student council elections, demanded that the banner be removed.

They also expressed a desire that no political symbols be displayed until tensions in the country have subsided.

"Sheikh Pierre Gemayel was a martyr for everyone, and we have a right to honor his memory," said Jean Tawile, a USJ graduate student, and one of the March 14 Forces' youth group members hanging the banner on the second floor of the main building. But the media spokesperson for the FPM youth movement Marc Sassine claimed that "following Gemayel's assassination, some of the March 14 supporters went to Sassine Square and burned pictures of [FPM leader] General Michel Aoun." "Even though we believe that Gemayel should be honored," Sassine added, "we also think it is more important to ensure that tensions on the street have calmed down before anything political is introduced on the campus." Sassine said that March 14 Forces came into the university "by force, militia style" determined to display the poster, attempting to initiate a clash. "We had no problem with the actual poster, and the student council was willing to hang it, but in the name of the council and all the students. But they rejected this and wanted to hang it only in their name, and when they do so in such an aggressive way, it will cause problems. We want to pay our respects for him too, but we just think [it would be better to do so] at a later date."

"We as students, not as a political party, wanted to pay our respects to Sheikh Pierre," said Gilbert Rizk, a final-year political science student who claims to be politically unaffiliated. "And the militants of the FPM and Hizbullah won't allow it until they receive an apology for the burning of Aoun's posters in Sassine. What they need to understand is that the students here had nothing to do with that, and we shouldn't be punished for it." Rizk added that even though the university's administration had banned all party flags from campus in order to minimize the chance of any clashes, Hizbullah supporters still came to the campus during elections with their flags. "But in this case we're talking about paying our respects to a martyr, it is not a political move," he added. After a meeting between the student council and the university's administration to decide on the next course of action, the students and the administration gathered under the banner, said a prayer, sang the national anthem and then removed the banner.

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