Hundreds march in anti-PTPTN protest
UPDATED @ 04:54:45 PM 14-04-2012
KUALA LUMPUR, April 14 — Hundreds of student activists marched across the city centre this afternoon, calling for free tertiary education and an end to Barisan Nasional (BN) rule.
The group began to march from Masjid Jamek LRT station at 2.30pm, blocking a lane of traffic along Jalan Tun Perak before stopping at the corner of Dataran Merdeka.
Chanting for the end of the National Higher Education Fund (PTPTN) which they say has saddled thousands of students with debt, their numbers grew to over 500 by the time they blocked the entrance to Sogo shopping complex along Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman.
“Destroy the regime! Abolish capitalism! Fight Umno-BN! Rosmah is rich, the people are poor!” they shouted, referring to the prime minister’s wife who is accused by opposition supporters of living a lavish lifestyle.
“It can be abolished and all can have the right to free education,” said Mohd Syahid Mohd Zaini, chairman of student activist group Malaysia Bangkit.
Safwan Anang, Chairman for Solidariti Mahasiswa Malaysia (SMM), an umbrella group of student movements, pointed out that it only took an outlay of RM2.2 billion each year to wipe out PTPTN debts.
"The government cannot do this but can spend over RM7 billion on submarines. All the government has produced are debt-ridden students," he said in front of Sogo, where curious bystanders easily outnumbered those attending the demonstration.
Khalid Ismath, secretary of the Independent Undergraduate Activists Group (Kami), also denied that the protest was influenced by the opposition, although PKR vice presidents Nurul Izzah Anwar and Chua Tian Chang also gave short speeches.
"This is the rising awareness of the youth. We want free education, not just for today, but for future generations. We don't want to be in debt, but to contribute to society.
"We won't just demonstrate but we will vote the government out," he said.
The Najib administration has insisted that Pakatan Rakyat's (PR) plans to end the federal student loan scheme will cost RM43 billion and bankrupt the nation.
But the opposition insists its plan to wipe out student debt under PTPTN would only cost RM25 billion as the RM43.6 billion figure quoted by Barisan Nasional (BN) represented all approved loans and not the real amount disbursed.
The students finally marched back to Dataran Merdeka at 4pm before slowly dispersing.
However, about 200 remained gathered around six tents erected by representatives who said they would remain there until BN sent a representative to negotiate with them.
Safwan told reporters later SMM aimed to have 100 students camp at Dataran Merdeka.
"But there is a concert here tonight so we don't know what will happen. Even if we are chased away we will continue in our universities," he said.