* Students block university entrance, burn barricades
* Police disperse students with water cannons
* Students want free university education for poor
JOHANNESBURG, March 4 (Reuters) - South African police on Thursday used water cannons to disperse groups of protesting Johannesburg university students demanding the government provide free tertiary education for the poor.
The demonstrations came only days after violent protests over slow provision of basic services like electricity and water in poor shanty towns around Johannesburg.
With less than 100 days to go before the soccer World Cup, which will put host South Africa in the centre of world attention, the string of demonstrations are providing scenes reminiscent of the apartheid era.
The latest protests are organised by the South African Students Congress (SASCO), the country’s largest student movement, which has called on its members to boycott lectures at nine universities.
SASCO said insufficient government subsidies to universities and difficulties in accessing state student loans deprived tens of thousands of poor South Africans of an education.
South Africa emerged from its first recession in 17 years in the third quarter of last year and while a sizeable portion of its budget goes towards education, its weak economic growth is constraining spending.
On Thursday students blocked entrances to the University of Johannesburg campus and police had used water cannon on several occasions to disperse the crowds.
"The situation is now calm and students and the university management are in discussions," police spokeswoman Julia Claasen said.
Similar standoffs have been reported at institutions in other parts of the country.
SASCO plans to march to parliament in Cape Town on Friday to demand the government provide free undergraduate education by next year. (Editing by Philippa Fletcher)