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Zambian Government Says Opposition Fueled Student Protests

University of Zambia students "surrender" to police in Lusaka after the Zambian government announced the university's closure, Feb. 3, 2016.

Zambian officials have accused opposition leaders of encouraging unrest at two state-funded universities to make the government unpopular ahead of this year's elections.

Copperbelt University in Kitwe and the University of Zambia in the capital, Lusaka, were closed indefinitely Wednesday after students at both schools protested delays in grant payments.

Information Minister Chishimba Kambwili said opposition leaders had undermined efforts by the government to resolve disagreements with the students to score cheap political points ahead of the elections.

He said the students started the demonstrations despite repeated assurances that their book and project allowances would be paid within the next two weeks.

"The opposition political parties, knowing that we are now going toward elections, are taking money to bribe the students to ask them to make protests so that the country can look as if it's ungovernable," Kambwili said.

One opposition party leader told a Zambian newspaper the closure of the two schools was the result of a failed government, not unruly students or political gamesmanship.

United Party for National Development spokesman Charles Kakoma told the Saturday Post that "accusing students of being used by opposition political parties does not hold water but exposes the failure and foolishness of those in charge of managing their affairs."

Kambwili said the recent global plummet of copper prices affected the administration's revenue generation capabilities, which he said caused the delay in payments to students.

He also said the students became rioters after they went into the streets, throwing stones at motorists and destroying private property.

"How can you keep criminals in the university? Why should they go and destroy private citizens' property?" Kambwili said. "Nonviolent protests are allowed to air out your grievances, but surely, to go on the road and destroying public property, start destroying vehicles of private property of individuals, is unacceptable. That's criminal, and I don't think the university is a place for criminals."