Anti-Obama protests dispersed by South Africa police

11:25 AM, Jun 29, 2013   |    comments
A secret service agent tries to stop people rushing to photograph the vehicle convoy transporting President Obama to the university in Soweto. Markus Schreiber, AP
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JOHANNESBURG - Police fired rubber bullets and a stun grenade into a crowd of hundreds of protesters waiting for President Obama to arrive at the University of Johannesburg on Saturday.

The crowd quickly scattered as police officers walked up the street pushing protesters away with shot guns.

"I feel my rights are being infringed," said 24-year-old Bilaal Qibr, who was at the protest. "We can't protest anymore. Personally, I feel like this is an extension of the U.S."

Protests have been planned at the university over Obama's visit and the news that he is expected to receive an honorary doctorate when he speaks later Saturday.

"They don't believe Obama deserves that award. The U.S. position and its relationship with Israel has created a problem," said Levy Masete, president of the Student Representative Council. "The students say 'stop the oppression in Palestine,' and you want to honor this man who is making this oppression possible."

"He's here for our African resources," said Nomagugu Hloma, 19, a student at what she called the "sell out" university. "Hands off our gold, oil, diamonds and land," she said.

South Africa's biggest trade union, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) also said they would be protesting, while the Muslim Lawyers Association called for the president's arrest for war crimes.

"I'm disappointed with President Obama," said Putase Tseki, the COSATU chairman of Gauteng province in Johannesburg. "He promised he would [change] his foreign policy, he was going to resolve Palestine and close Guantanamo. I would say I was positive four years ago, but now I don't know."

The "feeling of being let down" helped stem the protests, says William Beinart, an African studies professor at Britain's University of Oxford.

"High hopes were held for Barack Obama and his impact on Africa, and there has been some disappointment that he has not made a huge effort to increase aid," Beinart says. "(COSATU) is using the opportunity of Barack Obama's visit to make a point about corporate responsibility."

Even in Pretoria, blocks away from the hospital where Nelson Mandela has remained with a lung infection, students set up protests against U.S. policies on drones and the Middle East on Friday - a stark contrast to the happiness and excitement that greeted the president in Senegal, the first stop on his trip.

As well as speaking at the University of Johannesburg Saturday, Obama met with South African President Jacob Zuma, greeted with a military honor guard holding flags from both countries at the grand Union Buildings, where Mandela was inaugurated as the country's first black president in 1994.


Obama is also scheduled to meet with the chairwoman of the African Union, before attending a dinner hosted by Zuma.

On Sunday, the president will visit Robben Island, which was used as prison, a hospital for socially unacceptable groups and a military base between the 17th and 20th centuries and where Mandela was held for 18 out of the 27 years he was imprisoned under South Africa's former white leaders.

Obama will visit a community center with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and make a speech at the University of Cape Town focusing on U.S. African policy before flying to Tanzania for the last stop on his trip.

Analysts said Obamas visit to South Africa is a particularly important part of his trip.

"South Africa's unemployment rate is 25 percent, hence we can't afford not to have the U.S. trading with us," said Catherine Grant-Makokera, head of the economic diplomacy program at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg.

Despite the protests planned for Obama's stay in South Africa, some residents said they were happy that he is visiting the country.

"It may be good for the economy, so let's hope for the best," said store manager Joseph Nkabida, 21. "Obama is a good president that may bring change to South Africa. We are looking forward to hearing from him."

Still, others said they were not expecting much from the visit.

"I think it's good that he is coming but not that much is going to change," said Douglas Mafukidze, a 28-year-old maintenance man.



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