They are protesting against the PTPTN student loan scheme and want the prime minister or his deputy to meet them.
KUALA LUMPUR: More than 300 students set up camp at Dataran Merdeka here today, calling for free tertiary education and the scrapping of the student loan scheme.
Urging an end to the National Higher Education Fund Corporation (PTPTN) loan scheme, the students demanded that Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak meet with them in person there.
Student activist Adam Adli said: “We want the prime minister to come. If he doesn’t come, then we want his deputy [Muhyiddin Yassin]. If he [Muhyiddin] doesn’t [show up], then any minister who comes has to tell the PM or the DPM to come and meet us!”
He said that the students would occupy Dataran Merdeka until either Najib or Muyhiddin turned up.
The students first gathered in front of Masjid Jamek LRT station at 2pm.
They then marched towards the Sogo shopping centre along Jalan Raja Laut, shouting anti-PTPTN and anti-Barisan Nasional slogans.
“Hancur AUKU (Universities and University Colleges Act)! Hidup mahasiwa (long live the students)! Najib pembunuh (Najib is a murderer)! Altantuya! Hancur Najib Rosmah (Get rid of Najib and Rosmah)!” the students shouted as they marched through the streets.
At 3pm, the crowd stopped in front of the Sogo shopping centre to hear speeches from student leaders.
One of them was Mandeep Singh, a former student (he did not disclose his university) who claimed that the authorities penalised him for not paying his PTPTN loan.
He told the crowd that this was not true, and that the government had failed to take his name off the list, even though he had paid off his loan.
“Last year, I was caught for not paying. But I have paid as what I was due…The PTPTN only drives the youth into debt. And not just the youth, but also their families!” he shouted.
The students then put down two picture frames of Najib and Higher Education Minister Mohamed Khaled Nordin, and decorated them with Hindu flower garlands.
They would also put a Muslim tombstone in between the two frames, with the words “Democracy!!!” and the initials of the Higher Education Ministry written on it.
‘Free education, not cows’
Pakatan Rakyat MPs including Batu MP (PKR) Tian Chua were also present to give the students their support.
In a reference to the National Feedlot Centre (NFC) controversy, Lembah Pantai MP (PKR) Nurul Izzah Anwar said: “What is more important is free education, not cows!”
Sungai Siput MP (PSM) Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj said that a rich country such as Malaysia should have used its resources for the students’ welfare.
He also suggested that the government allocate educational subsidies for tertiary students.
The students then left Sogo at around 3:35pm, and marched down Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman towards Dataran Merdeka.
They then pitched several camps on the pavement next to the field. Most of the crowd dispersed peacefully, leaving a small core group of about 20 to man these tents.
At the time of writing, these students are still there.
Despite the street march, police presence was largely muted. Most of the time, the only officers present were traffic police who tried to get the marchers not to take up the whole road.
FRU (Federal Reserve Unit) personnel and water cannon trucks, a norm in previous demonstrations, were absent today.
There were a few KL City Hall (DBKL) enforcement personnel present. However, they did not interfere with the protesters.