British rioters' royal attack sparks concerns

10th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

British police defended their tactics Friday after a student mob attacked a limousine carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla during the most violent protests yet against higher university fees.

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 couple travelled to a theatre in London on Thursday.

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

Clarence House, the couple's official residence, would not comment on newspaper reports that Camilla was hit in the ribs by a stick shoved through one of the car windows which was accidentally opened in the melee.

"But what we are saying is that both their royal highnesses were unharmed and neither received any medical attention," a spokesman told AFP.

Prime Minister David Cameron said he was "very concerned" by the security lapse -- which comes ahead of the wedding of Charles' son Prince William in April next year -- and said those 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 said the royal couple were "grateful" for the police's actions and "totally understand the difficulties which the police face."

Police arrested 33 people, while at least 43 protesters and 12 police officers were injured during the clashes outside parliament which raged for hours after lawmakers voted on the fees issue, according to police figures.

A police watchdog said it had launched an investigation after a 20-year-old student needed surgery for bleeding on the brain after he was hit on the head with a police truncheon.

The plans to raise fees led to the government suffering its first resignations over policy and exposed 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, hooded activists had rained flares, sticks, metal fences, rocks, snooker balls and paint bombs on police protecting parliament, the Treasury and the supreme court.

Charles and his second wife Camilla were unhurt when they were targeted by a breakaway group of around 200 protesters chanting "off with their heads" which rampaged through Christmas shoppers around the central Oxford Street area.

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."

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

© 2010 AFP

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