Tension high as student protesters march in London

Thousands of students marched through London on Wednesday against cuts to university funding, facing off against police armed with rubber bullets amid fears of a repeat of violent protests last year.

Police cleared a group of protesters who pitched their tents in the tourist hub of Trafalgar Square, while sticks and bottles were thrown at riot officers in the financial district, Agence France-Presse correspondents reported.

Scotland Yard said police had made a number of arrests for public order offences. It said 2000 protesters were taking part, while the organisers of the demonstration said there were 10000 people involved.

The situation was tense, with police authorised to use plastic baton rounds if there is any repetition of last year’s violence, when Prime Minister David Cameron’s party headquarters was attacked on November 10 2010.

They are also the biggest protests in London since riots rocked the capital and other English cities in August, leaving five people dead.

“The message this year is the same as last year,” Michael Chessum of the national campaign against fees and cuts told AFP as the march set off from outside the University of London building in the centre of the city.

“Some people think the only way to make their point is by doing things beyond the law. We have students on the way to prevent trouble. But the majority of the violence comes from the police.”

No repeat
Scotland Yard said it had deployed 4000 officers for the protest to prevent any repeat of the violent scenes last year during similar marches against cuts to higher education funding and a hike in tuition fees.

The marchers went from the University of London to St Paul’s Cathedral in the heart of the financial district, where anti-capitalism protesters inspired by the “Occupy Wall Street” movement have been camping out since mid-October.

Lines of police vehicles prevented the two groups from joining, while police helicopters hovered overhead.

But a group of protesters had earlier broken off from the main rally to set up around 25 tents in historic Trafalgar Square at the foot of Nelson’s Column, which commemorates one of Britain’s greatest naval victories.

Police later moved in, hauling protesters out of the green and blue tents which officers then folded up.

“This is what democracy looks like,” screamed one protester with a trickle of blood running down his forehead, as police led him away in handcuffs.

Another protester, Glyn Jukes, told AFP the demonstrators were allied to the “Occupy London Stock Exchange” movement in St Paul’s.

Back on the main march, police handed out booklets to protesters advising them what to do if there is disorder, for example to stand aside and let officers work, demonstrators said.

Louisa Loveluck (22), who graduated with a degree in politics last year, said she still feared a violent response from the police.

“I don’t feel safe knowing that the police can use rubber bullets. I don’t have faith in the police,” she said.

The student protests began last year over plans to triple university tuition fees, which were subsequently passed by Parliament, but they say their opposition is now to a wider attempt to bring “market chaos” to the sector.

The fees hike triggered a series of four demonstrations in London against austerity measures, culminating in a chaotic protest on December 9 when the car carrying heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla was attacked.

Fears of violence have also been raised after London was rocked by riots and looting for four nights in August, which the government blamed on criminality, but which many analysts linked to high levels of deprivation in some areas. — AFP

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.

Beatrice Debut
Beatrice Debut works from Johannesburg, South Africa. AFP journalist for Southern Africa. Formely in Nairobi, London and Paris. Views my own, RTs not an endorsement Beatrice Debut has over 1495 followers on Twitter.
Sam Reeves
Sam Reeves
News editor for Malaysia and Singapore at AFP

Inside Facebook’s big bet on Africa

New undersea cables will massively increase bandwidth to the continent

No back to school for teachers just yet

Last week the basic education minister was adamant that teachers will return to school on May 25, but some provinces say not all Covid-19 measures are in place to prevent its spread

Engineering slips out of gear at varsity

Walter Sisulu University wants to reprioritise R178-million that it stands to give back to treasury after failing to spend it

Lockdown relief scheme payouts to employees tops R14-billion

Now employers and employees can apply to the Unemployment Insurance Fund for relief scheme payments

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Frontline Workers

Who is caring for the healthcare workers? 'Working together is how we are going to get through this. It’s not just a marathon, it’s a relay'.

PPS webinar Part 2: Small business, big risk

The risks that businesses face and how they can be dealt with are something all business owners should be well acquainted with

Call for applications for the position of GCRO executive director

The Gauteng City-Region Observatory is seeking to appoint a high-calibre researcher and manager to be the executive director and to lead it

DriveRisk stays safe with high-tech thermal camera solution

Itec Evolve installed the screening device within a few days to help the driver behaviour company become compliant with health and safety regulations

Senwes launches Agri Value Chain Food Umbrella

South African farmers can now help to feed the needy by donating part of their bumper maize crop to delivery number 418668

Ethics and internal financial controls add value to the public sector

National treasury is rolling out accounting technician training programmes to upskill those who work in its finance units in public sector accounting principles

Lessons from South Korea for Africa’s development

'Leaders can push people through, through their vision and inspiration, based on their exemplary actions'

Old Mutual announces digital AGM

An ambitious plan to create Africa’s biggest digital classroom is intended to address one of the continent’s biggest challenges — access to education

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday