Demonstrators attacked a police van and set fire to banners in central London today as an estimated 13,000 students held protests across the U.K. over plans to cut funding for education and increase university tuition fees.
The unrest broke out close to Downing Street, where Prime Minister David Cameron has his official residence. Fifteen people were arrested while two police officers were injured, the Metropolitan Police said.
The protests came two weeks after a demonstration in London by 50,000 students ended in violence. On Nov. 10, activists broke windows at the 27-story building housing the headquarters of the ruling Conservative Party and burned effigies of Cameron and his Liberal Democrat deputy Nick Clegg.
“We’re not paying any attention to those people who think the way to win an argument is to damage property and put people in fear,” Education Secretary Michael Gove told Sky News television.
One police officer suffered a broken arm in the clashes and another received leg injuries. London Ambulance Service said they treated eight members of the public for minor injuries.
More than 3,000 students marched in the south coast resort of Brighton, while about 4,000 people demonstrated in Manchester and 1,000 in Leeds in northern England, said the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, which called for further protests on Nov. 30.
In London, more than 5,000 students marched on Whitehall and 1,000 are currently being contained by police, the group said in a statement.
“We want to put enough pressure on the government to force them to back down on their plans,” spokesman Simon Hardy said in a telephone interview earlier today.
A group of protesters surrounded a police van in Whitehall, rocking it back and forth and smashing the windscreen with poles before daubing it with graffiti. Some students entered the van, while others attempted to stop them vandalizing the vehicle. Protesters also threw smoke grenades at police officers and vandalized a bus shelter.
“It’s very unfortunate, not only because of the damage being done but it also gives a sense of lawlessness and that things are out of control,” Brian Paddick, former deputy assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, said in an interview behind a police cordon.
Caught Off Guard
Police were caught off guard when the march on Nov. 10 unexpectedly split up, with about 2,000 protesters breaking away from a peaceful demonstration organised by the National Union of Students.
Cameron criticized the police for failing to anticipate the scale of the demonstration, which led to more than 50 arrests and dozens injured. Today, an 18-year-old student, Edward Woollard, pleaded guilty to violent disorder after throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of the Millbank Tower.
Cameron plans to allow British universities to charge as much as 9,000 pounds ($14,218) a year for tuition, compared with the current 3,290 pounds, as the government seeks to cut subsidies to colleges.
The cuts are part of efforts to slash 81 billion pounds from public spending by 2015 to narrow the record budget deficit.
Clegg has become the focus of student anger because his party had pledged to scrap tuition fees altogether, only to support an increase after joining the Conservatives in a coalition government after the May 6 election.
Last night, a group of protesters hung an effigy of Clegg outside the building in London where he was due to give a lecture. Clegg used the speech to urge students to examine the detail of the government policy and call off today’s protests.
“It is not my party’s policy, but it is the best policy given the choices we face,” Clegg said. “Our plans will mean that many of the lowest income graduates will repay less than they do under the current system. And all graduates will pay out less per month than they do now.”
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