British PM condemns student riot at party HQ

11th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday branded the ugly riots at his party's headquarters "completely unacceptable" after a student protest over tuition fees turned violent.

Cameron also criticised the "inadequate" police response, saying there had only been a small number of officers deployed to protect the London building housing the Conservative Party's offices when the violence broke out Wednesday.

Fifty people were arrested and bailed after thousands of demonstrators besieged the office block near parliament, completely smashing through the glass frontage, wrecking the lobby and attacking the police.

Fourteen people were injured, half of them police officers.

Police admitted they had been unprepared for the scale of violence and had been expecting a peaceful rally.

The first violent demonstration against the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition's policies since it came to power in May followed a march by students against the government's plans to triple university tuition fees as it seeks to pay off Britain's record deficit.

Speaking in television interviews from Seoul, where he is attending a G20 summit, Cameron said those responsible should be prosecuted.

"Of course people have a right to protest peacefully but I saw pictures of people who were bent on violence and on destruction and on destroying property and that is completely unacceptable," he told the BBC.

"And we need to make sure that that behaviour does not go unpunished and we need to make sure that we don't, as the police put it, see scenes like that on London's streets again."

Cameron said he had telephoned colleagues to check the safety of those in the building.

He praised the officers at the scene as "very brave" but told Channel Five News: "What the police themselves have said... is that the police response was inadequate and that the lessons have to be learned."

Activists got on the roof and hurled a fire extinguisher at the thin line of police below defending the building.

A riot officer identified only as Stu told BBC radio it landed "no more than six inches" behind him, saying it would likely have killed him had it hit.

"People were spitting upon us, smashing glass bottles off our helmets, hitting us with these sticks and pieces of wood, throwing bricks and masonry at us. We were kicked, abused, punched," he said.

"I can't understand how people who are supposed to be our future and students who want to take their learning to a higher level can behave like this. The damage was phenomenal."

Police put the number of demonstrators at 20,000, while organisers said it was nearer to 50,000.

National Union of Students president Aaron Porter said their cause had now been undermined and "lost a lot of public sympathy" due to activists who had been determined to "hijack a peaceful protest".

Newspapers poured scorn on the violence, with The Times calling it "thuggish and disgraceful".

Some fingered anarchists and left-wing agitators for hijacking the demo, accompanied by pictures of rioters in the violent activists' outfit of choice: black hooded top, rucksack and a scarf masking the face.

London's police chief Paul Stephenson promised a full investigation.

"This level of violence was totally unexpected, we need to ask ourselves why," he said, adding: "It's an embarrassment for London and for us."

The government announced plans last month to make deep cuts in public spending to help pay off a record deficit inherited from the previous Labour administration.

© 2010 AFP

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