Police pepper-spray protesting students in Sydney – including a legally blind girl

Screenshot from AP video
A protest against the Australian government’s education reforms in Sydney has turned violent, as security forces pepper-sprayed dozens of student activists – including a legally blind girl.

The students are protesting in Australia against soaring education fees, and cuts to the education system in the country.

About 40 students attempted to enter a lecture by Education Minister Christopher Pyne, and were dispersed by police.

Anna Amelia, 23, a legally blind student from the University of New South Wales, said that “It felt like there was an actual fire in my lungs.”

“I saw the orange spray which means it was close because on a good day I can only see two meters. Next thing everything was on fire and I couldn’t breathe,” The Daily Telegraph quoted her as saying.

Another victim, University of Sydney student Brigitte Garozzo, said she was just holding a sign and “deliberately didn’t yell” to avoid confrontation. However, she was still pepper-sprayed “for holding a sign.”

Eliza Buckley, a student at the protest, said: "Christopher Pyne is a despicable human being for creating that class divide where only the wealthy can afford a university education," The Sydney Morning Herald reported.

Ridah Hassan, education officer for the National Union of Students, her face covered in a milk-like substance to cope with the effects of pepper-spraying, expressed outrage at the authorities’ treatment of a peaceful protest.

"It demonstrates the lengths the NSW Police will go to defend the Education Minister Christopher Pyne from the people he rules over. It was a peaceful protest to protest at the government's deregulation agenda and we were pepper sprayed when making that point,” she said.

Another protest organizer, Sarah Garnham, said that the situation was “very much about implementing a carbon copy of the US education model in Australia,” with students “really angry about it.”

"We don't want the message of the protest to be lost because of what the police did today,” she said. “The policies of deregulating uni fees will see fees soar to as much as $100,000 per degree.”

As protesters were removed from the building, they chanted: "This is not a police state, we have the right to demonstrate,” ABC News reported.

One protester expressed the shock students felt: "It was confusing, but next minute, the police just maced us in the face, it was horrible and it still burns."

Prior to that, the rally had been peaceful.

Protesters chanted "Chris Pyne, f*** you, we deserve a future too!" They also held signs and shouted "We have to go to school," 9 News website reported. Slogans also included: "Education shouldn't be a death sentence," "You're sPyneless," and "No cuts, no fees, no corporate universities."

The protest took place during the annual education conference at the Sydney Masonic Center.

So far, Pyne’s office has declined to comment.

New South Wales police have started an investigation into the protest, saying the rally represented a risk for both security forces and protesters.

No one has been arrested or charged. Four people, including the building manager, were treated for injuries at the scene.

The next protest is planned for March 25.