Violent protests as Britain raises student fees (2nd Roundup)
Dec 9, 2010, 19:34 GMT
London - The British parliament Thursday narrowly approved controversial measures to hike university fees in the face of angry and violent protests from tens of thousands of students.
The vote in the House of Commons came amid fierce clashes between police and demonstrators outside parliament in London. At least eight police officers and scores of students were injured, police said.
After the vote, angry protestors rampaged through the government quarter, smashing telephone booths, breaking windows of government buildings, and vandalizing statues.
Riot police moved in as some protestors attempted to smash their way into the Treasury building with iron bars. The clashes were the worst seen on London streets for some time.
'Cuts kill. Save the welfare state,' said a slogan daubed on the walls of the Treasury building.
BBC correspondents reporting on the scene were ordered by police to wear protective helmets, as rocks from concrete road blocks and other missiles were hurled by protestors.
A peaceful demonstrator, dressed up as Father Christmas, was led away by police for his own protection. In Trafalgar Square, an attempt was made to set fire to a huge Christmas tree, the BBC said.
The increase in annual fees from 3,290 pounds (5,200 dollars) to a maximum of 9,000 pounds has become the first major parliamentary test for the Conservative-Liberal coalition.
The loans will be repayable after students earn at least 21,000 pounds.
The measures were passed by 323 against 302 votes, reducing the government majority of 84 to just 21. They are due to come in in 2012.
A number of Liberal Members of Parliament (MPs), and some Conservatives, abstained, or voted against the plan. Two Liberal MPs and one Conservative resigned government positions in protest at the fee rise.
The government argues that the increase is needed to secure the sustainable long-term funding for British universities at a time of austerity and budget cuts.
But critics maintain that students from less well-off backgrounds will be deterred from going to university in future.
'This is a bad day for families and people in our country,' said Ed Miliband, the leader of the Labour opposition party.
As the results of the vote filtered through to the outside, demonstrators lit bonfires in Parliament Square, set fire to benches and daubed a statue of wartime leader Winston Churchill in graffiti.
'We will not stop here. This is only the beginning,' shouted one student. 'Education is a right, not a privilege,' said another.
Police said there were 20,000 protestors in London, including many schoolchildren. Demonstrations also took place in more than a dozen other towns and cities.
Scotland Yard said one officer was taken to hospital with serious neck injuries after being knocked down by crowds. Another injured a leg when he was pulled off a police horse, police said.
In a tense confrontation earlier, police on horseback charged into the crowd outside Westminster Abbey to push the demonstrators back from the Houses of Parliament.
Groups of protestors had earlier broken through police lines, hurling metal barriers, sticks, snooker balls, paintballs, and other missiles.
Once the protestors broke through police lines at Parliament Square, police contained them there in what has become known as 'kettling.'
The Liberal Democrat Party, led by Nick Clegg, has been the prime targets of student anger, as they ruled out an increase in fees during the election campaign and said they would phase out the charge over six years.
Student numbers in Britain have risen from 157,000 in 1990 to more than 480,000 in 2010.
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