British PM condemns riot at party HQ

11th November 2010, Comments 0 comments

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday branded the riots at his party's headquarters "completely unacceptable" after a student protest over tuition fees turned violent.

Police, politicians and student leaders raked over the fallout from Wednesday's rioting which caught them all by surprise as the London building housing the Conservative Party's offices was attacked by a rampaging mob.

Cameron criticised the "inadequate" police response, saying there had only been a small number of officers deployed to protect 30 Millbank when the violence broke out.

Fifty people were arrested and bailed after thousands of demonstrators besieged the office block near parliament, completely smashing through the glass frontage, wrecking the lobby and attacking the police.

A total of 41 officers were injured, with seven taken to hospital.

The riot followed a march by students against the government's plans to triple university tuition fees as part of a programme of deep spending cuts as it seeks to bring down Britain's record deficit.

Police, who expected a peaceful rally, admitted they had been unprepared for the scale of violence, with 225 officers deployed to the entire march route through London.

Roughly two dozen police were initially at 30 Millbank when demonstrators began their assault, and a further 225 officers were brought in to recover the situation.

Speaking in television interviews from 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.

"We need to make sure that that behaviour does not go unpunished."

He praised the "very brave" officers at the scene 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."

Activists got on the roof of the building and hurled a fire extinguisher at the thin line of police below.

Detectives were trawling video and photos to identify the perpetrator, with some senior police figures demanding attempted murder charges.

A riot officer identified only as Stu told BBC radio the fire extinguisher landed "no more than six inches" behind him, saying it would likely have killed him if he had been struck.

"People were spitting upon us, smashing glass bottles off our helmets, hitting us with these sticks and pieces of wood, throwing bricks and masonry at us. We were kicked, abused, punched," he said.

"The damage was phenomenal."

Repairing the destruction caused as demonstrators ran amok in the four-hour stand-off could cost tens of thousands of pounds.

Police put the number of marchers at 20,000, while organisers said it was nearer to 50,000.

National Union of Students president Aaron Porter said their cause had now been undermined and "lost a lot of public sympathy" due to activists determined to "hijack a peaceful protest."

Newspapers poured scorn on the violence, with The Times calling it "thuggish and disgraceful."

Some blamed anarchists and left-wing agitators for infiltrating the demo, saying such groups had been plotting on the Internet for days.

Police Minister Nick Herbert told parliament that Scotland Yard had struck the "wrong" balance between cracking down on violence and allowing the right to protest.

London's police chief Paul Stephenson has promised a full investigation into why the level of violence was "totally unexpected", calling it "an embarrassment."

Further student action Thursday saw dozens involved in a sit-in demonstration at Manchester University in northwest England.

© 2010 AFP

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