Prince Charles' car attacked after vote on university fees

10th December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Rioters in Britain attacked a car carrying the heir to the throne Prince Charles and battled with police outside parliament as the government survived a major test in a vote to raise university fees.

Charles and his wife Camilla looked shocked as the anti-fees demonstrators hurled missiles and paint at their car as they travelled to the theatre in London late Thursday.

The couple were unharmed but a window of the vehicle was smashed.

Dozens of officers and demonstrators were injured as the student protest in the heart of the British capital turned violent during the government's narrow victory in a parliamentary vote.

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 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.

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."

Protesters attacked the armoured Rolls Royce carrying Prince Charles, 62, and his 63-year-old wife Camilla as they were driven down a major road in central London, their Clarence House residence said.

The burgundy 1977 Phantom VI was cut off from a convoy of police vehicles accompanying it and became surrounded by protesting students who had split off from the main demonstrations at parliament, according to witnesses.

"People were trying to talk to him [Charles] about tuition fees at first," said Matthew Maclachlan, quoted in the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"But when more people realised what was happening, the crowds swelled and people were throwing glass bottles and picking up litter bins and throwing them at the car. You could hear all this smashing."

The couple was not hurt and arrived as planned at the theatre, where they were attending the Royal Variety Performance, an annual star-studded evening of entertainment.

But the rear passenger window of the car -- where Charles had been sitting -- was smashed and the vehicle was splattered with white paint.

Thursday's protests were the third in response to plans to raise tuition fees, and the most violent so far.

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

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.

They also 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.

Prime Minister David Cameron denounced the "totally unacceptable" violence.

"It is clear that a minority of protestors came determined to provoke violence, attack the police and cause as much damage to property as possible," he said in a statement from his office.

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.

At least 43 protesters and 12 police officers were injured, according to police figures. Officers arrested 26 people for offences including violent disorder and assaulting police.

The proposal to raise fees has exposed deep tensions within the Liberal Democrats and put 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 and eight abstained.

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.

© 2010 AFP

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