British PM condemns student rioting at party HQ

11th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron condemned as "completely unacceptable" Thursday the actions of students who stormed his party's London headquarters in protest over plans to increase tuition fees.

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

Fourteen people were injured and about 35 arrested after thousands of demonstrators besieged the 1960s office building near parliament, smashing their way through the glass frontage and wrecking the lobby.

Police admitted they had been unprepared for the violence and had been expecting a peaceful demonstration.

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

The National Union of Students (NUS) said up to 50,000 people took part in the march, and its president Aaron Porter condemned as "despicable" the actions of the minority who attacked the 30 Millbank building.

Speaking in a round of television interviews from the South Korean capital 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 followed the unrest on television and 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."

Half of those injured in the violence were police officers, and one female officer was seen being led away from the scene with blood on her face.

"It was crazy, quite frightening," said Dylan, a 16-year-old high school student from Sussex in southern England, who emerged from the building clutching ringbinders and a computer mouse, and wearing a security pass around his neck.

He told AFP: "I'm upset, angry and worried about whether I'll be able to go to university. It's scary to think I might not be able to afford to go."

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.

However, Cameron rejected suggestions by some of the protesters that they signalled a throw-back to the riots of the 1980s, which targeted then premier Margaret Thatcher's Conservative government.

"I think there's a very big difference to the 1980s. This time we have a coalition government, we have two parties that have come together in the national interest," he said.

He added: "I think most people understand we have to take these steps, we have to get Britain out of the (economic) danger zone."

© 2010 AFP

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