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South Africa's Zuma agrees to sit down with protesters

After a week of silence the South African leader has conceded to meet with the leaders of the increasingly vocal student protest movement. Zuma said government and demonstrators should "work together."

South Africa's President Jacob Zuma said on Thursday that he would meet with student protesters in his first official reaction to a week of heated nationwide protests. At the same time, authorities announced that 30 students had been arrested after

clashes with police outside parliament

the previous evening.

Hundreds of students upset with a planned university fee hike - set to rise as much as 11.5 percent - forced their way through barriers in front of Cape Town's parliament complex on Wednesday, trying to disrupt Finance Minister Nhlanhla Nene's reading of the interim government budget. An impassive Zuma remained unmoved throughout the meeting as scuffles broke out between students and officers outside.

Trying to contain the chaos, police used stun grenades to push the crowd back, apprehending thirty demonstrators in the process.

"Thus far, 30 students have been arrested in regards to the incident outside parliament and they are likely to face charges including trespassing and public violence," read a police statement.

Amnesty International expressed dismay at the use of "tear gas and rubber bullets against peaceful protesters," and called on police to respect students' right to "express their grievances peacefully."

Zuma offers sit-down with students

President Zuma finally responded to the crisis with an offer to meet with student leaders and discuss their concerns.

"Nobody disagrees with the message that students from poor households are facing financial difficulties and possible exclusion," Zuma said, adding that the talks would take place on Friday.

"It is important that we work together to find solutions."

Universities in South Africa have said they need higher fees to maintain their standard of education and have petitioned the government to find the extra money without passing the cost on to students. The government, which subsidizes higher education, has said it cannot afford to provide university instruction completely free of charge.

es/rc (AFP, Reuters)

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