Heavy police presence for London student protest
LONDON — Police will deploy in large numbers for a march in London on Wednesday against changes to higher education funding, a year after students kicked off a series of protests with a violent demonstration.
Commander Simon Pountain, of London’s Metropolitan Police, said around 4,000 officers will be on duty for the protest against a hike in tuition fees and cuts to funding, with organisers expecting about 10,000 students to take part.
Police have been given authorisation to use new measures amid heightened fears of violence following the summer’s riots, and plastic bullets and armoured vehicles are in reserve in case serious unrest erupts, said Pountain.
“We will be intending to act swiftly and decisively if people do engage in criminal acts,” Scotland Yard’s assistant commissioner Lynne Owens told a press briefing on Monday.
Wednesday’s march through central London will be the biggest student protest for almost a year, organisers say, although it is not expected to reach the size of the first on November 10 last year, which attracted 50,000 people.
The protests in November and December last year, as the coalition government pushed through legislation allowing universities to treble fees, turned violent, with rioters at one point attacking a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife.
Police were caught off guard when violence erupted at the first protest as demonstrators attacked and broke into the Conservative Party headquarters.
Michael Chessum, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, one of the groups organising the march, insisted students were being urged not to take part in violence.
“We’ve been very explicit that what we are calling for is non-violent, direct action,” he told AFP.
Adding to the headache for police, two other protests will take place in London on the same day. Taxi drivers will stage a demonstration in Trafalgar Square, while electricians are also set to march.