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Quebec protest leaders to meet government for talks
Talks are set to resume Tuesday between university students and the Quebec government to try and bring an end three months of protests over tuition fees. On Monday, police arrested 84 demonstrators near the meeting venue.
AFP - Talks between students and the Quebec government aimed at ending more than three months of protests over tuition fee hikes were set to resume on Tuesday after the arrest of 84 protesters.
The demonstrators were arrested near the talks venue in Quebec City, the capital of the mostly French-speaking Canadian province, shortly after the negotiators had adjourned for the night.
A policeman at the scene said the protesters were arrested for blocking traffic and would be fined $400 each and released.
Student leader Leo Bureau-Blouin had earlier said negotiations would continue Tuesday afternoon, without providing further details or saying whether any progress had been made.
Since February, hundreds of protesters have been arrested and clashes have erupted sporadically as more than 165,000 students have refused to attend class and tens of thousands have protested the planned increase in school fees.
A tentative deal was reached after marathon talks a month ago but soon fell apart, and nightly protests in Montreal and other cities resumed.
Last week some 1,000 protesters were detained in some of the biggest mass arrests in the province's history.
The talks between Education Minister Michelle Courchesne and student leaders have been touted as a "last chance" to resolve the conflict before the start of summer festivals and other major tourist draws.
Courchesne was expected to put a new offer on the table, but will not likely budge on the start in September of the staggered increases in tuition fees at the province's universities.
Going into the meeting, she told reporters she was "confident" that the talks would be fruitful.
Another student leader, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, said key demands for a tuition fee freeze or at least a smaller hike and the repeal of a controversial law that restricts protests must be part of the negotiations.
If Courchesne "refuses to discuss school fees and Act 78, our meeting won't last long," he said. "These are our priorities."
Act 78, regarding protests, was passed on May 18 in an effort to quell the unrest but has only served to galvanize opposition to the government.
The measure requires organizers to give police at least eight hours advance warning of times and locations of protest marches, with hefty fines imposed for failing to do so.
As the talks continued on Monday evening, hundreds of legal professionals -- some dressed in black robes with polished shoes, others decked out in suits and ties -- took to the streets of Montreal to protest the measure.
In silence and carrying a banner expressing their opposition to the law, they marched along a major boulevard surrounded by supporters.
Organizers described the measure as an infringement on the freedom of expression and right to demonstrate.
Premier Jean Charest became the first Quebec premier in 2008 to win three back-to-back mandates since the 1950s. But his popularity has plummeted amid the student unrest, on the heels of corruption allegations.
The students initially launched protests and boycotted classes in response to the government's plan to raise annual university fees by 82 percent, or $1,700, with the increase gradually introduced over a period of several years.
Officials are desperate to rein in the protests -- which could put at risk hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenues -- before the Montreal Grand Prix on June 8-10.
For Charest, a resolution might also help turn around his political fortunes before he has to go the polls again, between now and December 2013.