16 May 2017

Liberia: Police, UMU Students Clash

Photo: The New Dawn
Police patrol.

Baton-wielding police officers on Friday charged at angry students from the United Methodist University (UMU) who stormed the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) demanding the immediate resignation of Minister Axel Addy.

In the process, several students were reportedly wounded and others arrested. Several cars were also damaged in the fracas.

The students said their action was in protest against the "influx of expired goods on the Liberian market."

They claimed that Minister Addy is unable to stop the continued entry of "fake goods" into the Liberian market.

"Since Minister Addy took over the job, he has done nothing to curtail the influx of so many expired goods on the market, which is dangerous for the consuming public," some students told the Daily Observer.

"This is not the first time we have noticed right in front of this ministry the sale of expired goods," said student Maima Kromah.

Mr. B. S. Bolee, a Political Science major at the UMU, complained that counterfeit goods pose a public health hazard, waste consumers' income, and lowers the people's trust in government.

"Counterfeit goods like drugs do not only take income from consumers, they also lead to unresolved health problems that sometimes result in death," he claimed.

"Counterfeit products are also harmful to the economy. Min. Addy and his inspectors only talk without action and continue to leave the poor people to suffer from the complications that come with these fake goods," Bolee said.

While the students shouted in demand of Addy's resignation, a squad of police officers arrived and ordered them to leave the Ministry's premises.

The police action came at the start of the protest at the Ministry.

When the police officers resorted to the use of force, the students responded by throwing at them stones and anything they could lay their hands on. The stampede, which lasted for more than 15 minutes, saw police officers chasing the protesting students, who then sought refuge on their campus.

Some police officers were seen dragging students, including females with torn blouses, from the school's campus on Ashmun Street,.

An instructor of UMU, who spoke to the Daily Observer but asked not to be identified, said the LNP officers "unprofessionally and unconscionably entered the university in an attempt to brutalize the protesters.

"The police also went into the various classrooms and brutalized our students who had no idea about the protest. Some of our students were in class and were not on the streets," he said.

MOCI communications director Mitchell Jones condemned the students' behavior, which he said resulted in several material losses.

He said: "We cannot control the flow of all goods that come to Liberia. We don't have Ministry of Commerce inspectors at every point of entry into the country, except the major ones.

"The Ministry has 201 employees, so it means we don't have the manpower to put people at every store or entry point in the country."

Mr. Jones added that although it is the students' right to assemble, the best thing they should have done was to report their grievances to the consumer protection section of the Ministry, which would have launched an investigation and taken the necessary action.

"But they opted to disturb the Ministry's smooth business operations and cause violence," he grumbled.

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