Tens of thousands of angry students rampaged through the streets of London on Thursday, smashing windows of the Supreme Court, pelting police at the Treasury with rocks, and setting fire to a Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square after parliament voted to triple university tuition fees.
Even Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall received a taste of the protesters’ fury. Demonstrators attacked a car containing the couple, breaking a window and tossing paint on the car, before it was able to drive away, according to an Associated Press photographer.
The royal Rolls Royce reportedly had a window smashed and its read-end covered in white paint.
Nine policeman and 22 students were injured in scuffles, according to Sky News. One officer was pulled off his horse and trampled by the beast.
As lawmakers in the House of Commons approved the proposal to raise the cap on tuition fees to 9,000 pounds by a 323 to 302 vote, riot police outside clashed with protesters who threw flares, billiard balls and paint bombs.
The vote exposed deep tensions within the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition. Twenty-one of the 57 Liberal Democrat ministers in parliament voted against the proposal, with eight abstaining.
The Lib Dems, led by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, made a pledge to phase out tuition fees altogether as a central plank of their election manifesto.
But in forming a coalition with the Conservatives, the Lib Dems performed a U-turn on the issue, to the horror of students and many within the party itself.
One protester in Parliament Square, Andrea Baptiste, 18, from London, said Clegg was “a liar and a snake”.
Students trashed government property, outraged by parliament’s actions. AFP
“This government should serve the people but to raise fees to 9,000 pounds a year just creates serious social divisions,” she said.
“I hope as many Lib Dems as possible split with Clegg and vote against the increase.”
A defiant Clegg, who has appeared visibly uncomfortable over the issue, dismissed opponents of the policy as “dreamers”.
“I would feel ashamed if I didn’t deal with the way that the world is, not simply dream of the way the world I would like it to be,” he said.
Police on horseback charge protesters, dividing the crowd. AFP
“In the circumstances in which we face, where there isn’t very much money around, where many millions of other people are being asked to make sacrifices, where many young people in the future want to go to university — we have to find the solution for all of that.”
The proposal to raise the ceiling on fees from the current level of 3,290 pounds a year comes against a backdrop of huge cuts to higher education funding in Britain, part of major budget reductions to tackle a record deficit.
The rise in fees was also supported by the majority of universities, which say they need the additional funding.
Editing by Stephen C. Webster