By Scott Waide – EMTV News, Lae
More than 3,000 students from the University of Technology and the National Polytechnic Institute in Lae travelled in busloads to the Eriku Oval starting at 9am yesterday for an awareness meeting.
Authorisation for the gathering was given on Tuesday afternoon after lengthy dialogue between the Lae Metropolitan Superintendent, Anthony Wagambie Jnr, and student leaders.
Like the University of Papua New Guinea, the majority of students wore black signifying their protest over what they see as an assault on the country’s constitutional offices.
Each element of this awareness meeting was carefully chosen – the flags for diversity and unity and the female students also at the forefront of this relatively quiet protest.
“My intention in joining this awareness is to take the message to out parents, our uncles and our brothers and sisters so that they will know what we are fighting for,” said Tanya Sawa, one of the many young women who voted for a boycott just days ago.
The students were barred from carrying anything defamatory or contemptuous in nature including placards or slogans that could trigger court proceedings against them.
They were also disallowed from walking from the Taraka campus to Eriku for fear that it could trigger a riot. Instead, the SRC organised buses to take the students from the university to Eriku with a police escort.
This is the first time since the unrest began that Unitech is reaching out to the public. Student leaders have said this is not a protest but instead an awareness meeting to educate the public on national issues affecting the country, and why their call for the PM to step aside still stands.
“I wouldn’t say that we’re heading towards an authoritarian state, but I would say what’s happening will affect us for years into the future,” said President of the Simbu Students Association, Lucas Kiak.
The awareness meeting was approved after two weeks of meetings between student leaders and Metropolitan Superintendent Wagambie, who has been personally facilitating discussions to ensure the tensions don’t escalate and spill over.
The manner in which the meeting was controlled has also triggered positive reactions in the Lae community, as well as on social media, where Lae police have been praised for their professionalism and restraint.