3 students set fire to themselves in Senegal

Three students set themselves on fire on the campus of Senegal's largest university on Friday to protest changes in the way credits are being counted in the college's geography department, witnesses said.

All three survived after their friends threw sand on them, and only one was admitted to the hospital with burns on his arm and a portion of his face.

"Today, I chose to die. I didn't want to live anymore," Mansour Niang said, just before he was taken to see a psychiatrist at the municipal hospital. "I am very proud of what I have done. I'm happy with myself."

The students in the geography department launched a hunger strike last month to protest a change implemented by the university in how credits are counted for the three-year geography undergraduate degree. Niang and his classmates say they were just one credit away from completing their degree, and the change means that they will need to spend another calendar year taking a class that is the equivalent of two hours of instruction per week. It also means they will not be eligible for the masters degree in geography.

Student leader Seydou Niang, who organized the hunger strike at the University of Cheikh Anta Diop, said another 50 students are ready to set themselves on fire in protest. Self-immolation has become a potent protest ever since a vegetable seller in Tunisia set himself alight, an act that gave birth to the Arab Spring.

The state-owned Senegalese Press Agency reported that the rector of the university ruled out any discussion regarding the system by which students are being admitted to the geography masters program. "We cannot go back on our decision which was final," Saliou Ndiaye is quoted as saying.

The University of Cheikh Anta Diop was once one of the most prestigious universities in West Africa. It has fallen into disrepair and the campus is frequently immobilized by student protests and strikes by the relatively low-paid professors.

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University student Mansour Niang, 27, center, who set himself on fire to protest grading changes that would keep him from continuing his studies, rests with fellow students on steps outside the entrance to the emergency ward, after being treated for burns on his arm and face at the main municipal hospital, in Dakar, Senegal Friday, March 15, 2013. Niang and two other students who tried to immolate themselves Friday are part of a group of 50 geography majors who say a new grading system has unfairly left them one credit short of receiving their diplomas, and will block them from continuing to their fourth-year masters degree at the public university. Student witnesses said students unconnected to the protest immediately threw sand on Niang to put out the fire and stopped the two other students from setting themselves alight. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)