Mob attacks police van at new British student protest
A student mob attacked a police van in central London on Wednesday as violence marred a second mass protest in the last fortnight against the British government's plans to triple university fees.
Thousands of students and schoolchildren -- some wearing their school uniforms -- surged past government ministry buildings in Whitehall towards the Houses of Parliament as part of a national day of protest.
Although there was a party atmosphere among much of the crowd, a group of masked young men attacked a police van parked in the middle of the street and covered it with graffitti.
They rocked it from side to side trying to overturn it, smashed the front windscreen, pulled off the wing mirrors and jumped on top of its roof. One man urinated on a front wheel.
Other protesters remonstrated with them to stop and many deplored the violence, insisting that the demonstration should be peaceful.
Melissa Relf, 18, from Essex in southeast England, said: "We're not going to take this (tuition fee hike) lying down, as the violence the other week showed. But it should be peaceful unless people hijack it."
The coalition government of Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed to triple the amount universities can charge students as part of widespread public spending cuts intended to pay off a record deficit.
Up to 50,000 students gathered to protest the cuts on November 10 in a demonstration that began peacefully but turned violent when members of the crowd stormed the London headquarters of Cameron's Conservative party.
This time around, protesters intended to target the offices of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in the government who had explicitly promised to oppose any increase in tuition fees during May's election.
A handful of demonstrators hanged an effigy of Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, the deputy prime minister, as he gave a speech late Tuesday in north London.
The students were due to deliver Clegg a letter Wednesday, reading: "We call on you to withdraw Lib Dem support for Conservative cuts to our education system, or face the disappointment and anger of a generation that has been betrayed."
Other demonstrations took place around Britain Wednesday, including a march of about 3,000 people in Manchester in northwest England, with other protests in the northern city of Leeds and Bristol in the west.
A total of 68 people were arrested during the November 10 protests, where dozens of people forcing their way into the Conservative party building, smashing windows, vandalising furniture and clashing with police.
One of those arrested was 18-year-old Edward Woollard, who was accused of throwing a fire extinguisher off the eight-storey building and narrowly missing police officers and photographers below.
Woollard appeared at City of Westminster Magistrates Court Wednesday where he pleaded guilty to violent disorder. He was bailed and sentencing was referred to a later date.
The November 10 protest caught the police off guard and Wednesday's march was met by a heavy police presence.
© 2010 AFP