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French student’s self-immolation provokes anti-poverty rallies

Several hundred students gathered on 12 November 2019 at the student aid centre in Lyon where 22-year-old Anas K lit himself on fire the previous week.
Several hundred students gathered on 12 November 2019 at the student aid centre in Lyon where 22-year-old Anas K lit himself on fire the previous week. AFP/Philippe Desmazes

University students demonstrated against precarious living conditions in cities around France on Tuesday, four days after a 22-year-old student set himself on fire in apparent protest of policies of President Emmanuel Macron and his own financial troubles.

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Demonstrations of several hundred students took place in cities around France including Paris, Lyon and Lille, where protesters forced the cancellation of a conference by former president François Hollande.

The rallies were called after Anas K, a 22-year-old student at Lyon 2 University poured petrol on himself before setting himself alight outside the building that houses the regional student aid centre in the city of Lyon on Friday.

He was very badly burned and medical authorities said Tuesday he was between life and death in hospital.

“We did not know about this student’s personal struggle, he was very involved in the university body,” Nathalie Dompnier, president of Lyon 2, told AFP agency on Saturday.

The university said it would set up a psychological support unit for students.

Facebook message

Prior to his attempted suicide, Anas K posted a Facebook message detailing financial difficulties and said he chose the student aid centre as a “political target” that represented “the higher education ministry and, by extension, the whole government”.

“This year,” the message read, “I am doing the second year of my bachelor’s degree for the third time. I have no grant. Even when I had one, I got 450 euros per month. How can you live on that?”

Anas K blamed the three most recent presidents for conditions that put him in a dire financial situation and also accused far-right politicians and the media of contributing to a degraded social context.

“I accuse Macron, Hollande, Sarkozy and the European Union of killing me by creating an atmosphere of uncertainty, and I accuse Marine Le Pen and the journalists of contributing other fears that can hardly be qualified as secondary.”

Nationwide demonstrations

Anas K ends by calling on others to continue the fight against the endemic poverty suffered by many French university students – which appears to have been heeded by the Lyon branch of student union Solidaires, of which he was a member.

The union called for nationwide rallies in support of Anas K and described the self-immolation as a “deeply political, desperate act” against “a fascist and racist system that breaks people”.

In Lille, about a hundred protesters broke into an amphitheatre ahead of a speech by former president François Hollande, forcing the event to be cancelled.

Hollande said he “regretted the feelings turned into violence on the part of a hundred individuals, leaving no place for dialogue and preventing more than 1,200 students from discussing with him on the topic of democracy”.

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