Prince Charles' car attacked in university fee hike protest

9th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Rioters battled police outside parliament and attacked a car carrying the heir to the throne Prince Charles on Thursday as Britain's coalition survived a major test in a vote to raise university fees.

Dozens of officers and demonstrators were wounded as a student protest in the heart of London turned violent during the government's narrow victory in a vote in parliament.

Charles and his wife Camilla were caught up in the protests when their car was attacked and daubed with paint as they travelled to a theatre, although the couple escaped unharmed.

The government suffered its first resignations over policy and the plans to raise fees exposed the deep strains within the seven-month-old coalition.

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.

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.

Demonstrator Anna Campbell, a 19-year-old studying French and Russian at Sheffield University, cried after hearing the result.

"I'm so angry, but this is not the end," she told AFP. "It's just the beginning, we are going to keep fighting."

Outside the Houses of Parliament, activists rained missiles on police protecting the building and clashed with police at other points around Parliament Square, with several officers and demonstrators wounded.

Flares, sticks, metal fences, rocks, snooker balls and paint bombs were among the missiles hurled at police in an ugly battle that lasted hours.

Hooded youths repeatedly attacked police lines, torched benches and a security guard box in the square, smashed the doors and windows of the Treasury, or finance ministry, and the Supreme Court, and vandalised a statue of wartime prime minister Winston Churchill.

Protestors attacked the car of Charles, 62, and his 63-year-old wife Camilla as they were driven through central London, their Clarence House residence said.

The couple were unharmed and arrived as planned at a theatre but the rear passenger window of the car -- where Charles had been sitting -- was smashed and the vehicle was splattered with white paint.

Close by, part of Oxford Street, London's main shopping thoroughfare, was sealed off after protesters smashed two giant shop windows at a major clothing store. Police accused them of targeting "innocent Christmas shoppers."

Several protesters suffered head wounds, one being taken away on a makeshift stretcher.

Julyan Phillips, 23, a student at Goldsmiths College in London, part of the University of London, had blood pouring from a cut on his head.

"The guys who were next to me were pushing a metal fence towards them but a policeman decided to lash out at me instead with a baton," he told AFP.

He said he was demonstrating because "education is a right, not a privilege."

At least 38 protesters and 10 police officers were injured, while 22 arrests were made for a series of offences including violent disorder and assaulting police.

"Police completely condemn the outrageous and increasing levels of violence," Scotland Yard said.

"This has nothing to do with peaceful protest. students are involved wanton vandalism."

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

As they try to rein in Britain's record deficit, the plans amount to a reversal of one of the Lib Dems' flagship election pledges.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's party vowed to phase out tuition fees altogether if they won the election.

Of the 57 Liberal Democrat lawmakers, 28 voted with the government, while 21 voted against.

The coalition suffered its first resignations over policy when two Lib Dem parliamentary aides to ministers and one Conservative quit their posts in order to vote against the plans.

The Lib Dem U-turn has outraged students who voted for the centrist party and has sparked a series of demonstrations over the past month which have turned violent.

The rise in fees is supported by the majority of universities. Graduates will begin to pay them once they earn more than 21,000 pounds per year.

© 2010 AFP

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