Students stage cuts and fees hike protest

Thousands of UK students took to the streets today in a largely peaceful protest against government cuts and university fee hikes.

Thousands of UK students took to the streets today in a largely peaceful protest against government cuts and university fee hikes.

A handful of arrests were made as demonstrators marched through central London, with a half-hearted attempt to storm Tory HQ thwarted by police.

But Scotland Yard reported no serious violence or disorder during the event, in marked contrast to earlier protests.

Sixth-formers joined university students on the march, which started outside the University of London Union.

Ill-feeling over proposals to raise tuition fees and scrap the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) had led to ugly scenes at previous demonstrations in the capital.

And prior to the rally setting off, police officers handed out leaflets giving advice on what to do if violence broke out.

But most participants seemed content to rely on peaceful methods to get their message across.

Chanting “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts”, they initially struggled to be heard over the sound of drums as the rally got under way.

Students are protesting against coalition proposals which would see universities charge them up to £6,000 a year, or £9,000 a year in “exceptional circumstances”.

Many also feel aggrieved over the planned scrapping of EMA, which provides poorer sixth-form students with financial assistance.

Moritz Kaiser, a 17-year-old sixth-former from Oxford, was among those protesting today.

He said: “The tuition fee hike will affect my family quite badly and it is unnecessary when you look at how much is lost in tax avoidance.”

A dual British-German national, he now intends to head to the European mainland to avoid the additional bill.

“I was going to study here, but in Germany it is only €500 a year, and you get a free bus pass,” he added.

His friend, Lucio Pezzella, also 17 and at sixth-form college in Oxford, said the “wrong people were being punished” for the UK’s economic woes.

“Ordinary people shouldn’t have to pay for a crisis brought on by the bankers,” he said.

Organisers had agreed the route of the march with police beforehand and additional officers were stationed at potential flashpoints along the way.

Outside Topshop in the Strand, a line of uniformed officers formed a barrier separating the demonstration from the store.

But it did not stop students yelling abuse directed at owner Sir Philip Green, whose tax arrangements have attracted controversy.

“Pay your tax, pay your tax,” they chanted, as bemused shoppers trapped inside peered through the line of police.

The only serious confrontation between officers and demonstrators took place shortly before 2pm, when students started running towards Tory HQ at 30 Millbank.

Officers attempted to stop their advance, but a few broke through and made their way to the entrance.

One protester was tackled to the ground and held there for several minutes.

The 18-year-old from Essex, who declined to give his name, claimed he had been kneed in the chest and punched by officers as he remained on the ground being restrained.

Another group of demonstrators started throwing sticks at police.

But after a stand-off lasting only a few minutes, most of the protesters moved on.

They headed in the direction of the Egyptian Embassy, where a separate demonstration was being staged against the rule of President Mubarak.

Some of the banners on display during the student march had already attempted to link events in North Africa with those in the UK.

“Ben Ali, Mubarak... Cameron, you are next,” one read.

As they approached the embassy in central London, a chant of “London, Cairo - unite and fight” started up.

But despite rumours that an attempt to storm the embassy was to be staged, the two groups of protesters remained largely separate, and the remaining students soon moved on.

A splinter group from the dispersing crowd attempted to disrupt traffic in London’s main shopping district by staging a sit-down protest in Oxford Circus.

It lasted a few minutes before officers moved in and cleared the junction.

Along Oxford Street, officers continued to guard Topshop and Vodafone outlets.

But as darkness fell, the protest dwindled, as more members fell away.

In the course of the day, police made six arrests. Three were for criminal damage, one for violent disorder and one for being wanted on warrant.

Universities and Science Minister David Willetts said: “The Government respects the right of all citizens to engage in lawful and peaceful protest.

“Our student and university finance reforms are fairer than the present system and affordable for the nation.

“No student will be asked to pay upfront costs, there will be more financial support for poorer students and those who go on to earn the highest incomes will make the largest contributions after they have graduated.

“Our reforms also put students in the driving seat.”

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