British police may use water cannon at student demos

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British police said Monday they were considering whether to use water cannon against student demonstrators after violent riots last week in which Prince Charles and his wife were targeted.

Protesters angered by a hike in university tuition fees rampaged through London on Thursday, damaging government buildings and making phyiscal contact with the heir to the throne's wife Camilla after surrounding the couple's car.

Commander Bob Broadhurst, the head of the public order branch of London's Metropolitan Police, said that after the "wanton" violence, police were weighing up different tactics ahead of more rallies expected this week.

"There has been a great deal of speculation over the weekend about the Met using water cannons," Broadhurst said in a statement.

"There are no current plans to use water cannons on the streets of the capital but we would be foolish if we did not take time to look at tactics such as this to see if it might be appropriate in the future," he added.

Broadhurst said however that police were "not in the business of knee jerk reactions", and insisted that their decision would aim to "ensure the best outcome for protesters, officers and all Londoners."

Water cannon have previously only been used in Britain in the troubled province of Northern Ireland to curb sectarian rioting.

Home Secretary Theresa May, speaking in parliament ahead of the police statement, said it was for police chiefs to decide what equipment to use but added: "In relation to water cannon I don't think it's needed."

Thirty-nine people have been arrested over last week's protests, which saw thousands of protesters clashing with police outside parliament after lawmakers approved plans to increase fees by as much as threefold.

A breakaway group of rioters surrounded a Rolls Royce carrying Charles and Camilla to a gala charity event, smashing a window and spattering it with paint.

May confirmed that there was "some contact made" with Camilla following reports that a demonstrator had poked her in the ribs with a stick through the car window.

© 2010 AFP

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