British rioters' royal attack sparks concerns

10th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

British police defended their tactics Friday after students protesting against higher university fees attacked a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife in London's most violent riots for years.

The heir to the throne and Camilla looked shocked as rampaging demonstrators 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 on Thursday.

The royal security breach came as thousands of angry youths clashed with riot police and tried to storm the finance ministry during the coalition government's narrow victory in a vote on the tuition fees.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "very concerned" by the lapse -- which comes ahead of the wedding of Charles' son Prince William in April next year -- and said the "mob" who attacked the car must be 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.

Scotland Yard chief Sir Paul Stephenson said the royal couple's route had been thoroughly surveyed minutes before the attack, adding that armed royal protection officers had held back 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.

"But it was a hugely shocking incident and there will be a full criminal investigation into it."

Clarence House, Charles' official residence, said the royal couple were "grateful" for the police's actions.

"Their royal highnesses totally understand the difficulties which the police face and are always very grateful to the police for the job they do in often very challenging circumstances," the spokeswoman said.

Thirty-four people were arrested and at least 43 protesters and 12 police officers were injured during the fierce clashes outside parliament which raged for hours after lawmakers voted on the fees issue, 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 their larger 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.

A huge clean-up operation was underway Friday outside the Houses of Parliament, where a vandalised statue of wartime premier Winston Churchill stood behind a pile of wrecked metal fence parts.

During Thursday's protests, the third and most violent against the fees hike, hooded activists had rained flares, sticks, metal fences, rocks, snooker balls and paint bombs on police protecting parliament.

Charles and his second wife Camilla were unhurt when they were targeted by a breakaway group of around 200 protesters which rampaged through Christmas shoppers around the central Oxford Street area, smashing shop windows.

As a smiling Camilla left the annual charity concert the couple were headed to when they were attacked, she told reporters: "I'm fine thanks -- first time for everything."

But former royal police officer Charles Shoebridge said the incident "ranks amongst the most serious security breaches of the past decade."

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 a shocked Camilla.

© 2010 AFP

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