British police under fire after protesters attack royals

10th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

British police defended their actions Friday after students demonstrating against a rise in university fees attacked a car carrying Prince Charles in London's worst day of protest violence for years.

The heir to the throne and his wife Camilla looked shocked as rioters broke a window of their Rolls Royce and spattered the car with paint as the royals travelled to a theatre in the centre of the capital.

Scotland Yard faced criticism after thousands of people clashed with riot police and tried to storm the finance ministry during the government's narrow victory in a vote on the tuition fees on Thursday.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Metropolitan Police, said the royal couple's route had been thoroughly surveyed minutes before the attack, adding that armed royal protection officers had shown restraint by not opening fire on protesters.

"I do think that the officers who were protecting their royal highnesses showed very real restraint, some of those officers were armed," he told BBC radio.

"Their priority was to get that car to a point of safety and that was achieved. But it was a hugely shocking incident and there will be a full criminal investigation into it."

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "very concerned" by the lapse in royal security and said the "mob" that attacked Charles and Camilla's car must be arrested and punished.

"We want to learn the lessons from that but, above all, we want to make sure that the people who behaved in these appalling ways feel the full force of the law of the land," Cameron said.

Thirty-four people were arrested and at least 43 protesters and 12 police officers were injured during fierce clashes outside parliament and in running battles in London's main shopping street, according to police figures.

The government suffered its first resignations over policy and the plans to raise fees exposed the deep strains, both within the ranks of the Liberal Democrats and with coalition partners the Conservatives.

The government's majority was cut by three-quarters as lawmakers voted by 323 to 302 to raise the cap on annual tuition fees at English universities from 2012.

As part of widespread austerity measures aimed at cutting Britain's deficit, the basic level of fees will now climb to 6,000 pounds (9,460 dollars, 7,140 euros), with an upper limit of 9,000 pounds. The current cap is 3,290 pounds.

The protest on Thursday was the third in response to the plans to raise tuition fees and the most violent so far.

Outside the Houses of Parliament, hooded activists rained flares, sticks, metal fences, rocks, snooker balls and paint bombs on police protecting the building in an ugly battle that lasted for hours.

Chanting "No ifs, no buts, no education cuts", youths vandalised a statue of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and plumes of smoke rose over Parliament Square as youths torched benches and a security guard box.

Charles and his second wife Camilla were targeted by a group of hundreds of other protesters which broke away from the main demonstration and rampaged through Christmas shoppers around Oxford Street, smashing shop windows.

The couple was not hurt and arrived as planned at the theatre, where they were attending the Royal Variety Performance, an annual star-studded evening of entertainment for charity.

As a smiling Camilla left the performance, she told reporters: "I'm fine thanks -- first time for everything."

There was widespread condemnation of the protests in the British press.

"How could the thuggish and cowardly attack on Charles and Camilla's car be justified?" asked The Sun. The Daily Mail's headline said: "Pure terror in her eyes" above a picture of the shocked Duchess.

The proposal to raise fees has exposed deep tensions within the Liberal Democrats and put strain on their coalition with the larger Conservative Party which came to power following the general election in May.

The plans amount to a reversal of one of the Lib Dems' flagship election pledges and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's popularity has become a particular hate figure for protesters.

© 2010 AFP

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