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UK students march on London in new fees protest
Thousands of UK students marched through the capital Wednesday in their latest demonstration against the Conservative-led government’s radical changes to higher education funding, which sparked violent protests a year ago.
REUTERS - Thousands of students marched through London on Wednesday in the latest display of anger against the Conservative-led government’s austerity measures.
Four similar protests by students late last year led to clashes with police, assaults on public buildings and the Conservative Party’s headquarters, and almost 400 arrests.
Some 10,000 people from across Britain were expected to join the demonstration against the education policies of the coalition government. It was the biggest protest in London since the capital and other English cities suffered four days of rioting in August, the worst urban violence for decades.
Police were out in force as the march began, with helicopters tracking its route. Large numbers of officers carrying riot helmets channelled protesters through the streets towards their rallying point in the city’s financial district.
Protesters held up banners denouncing steep rises in tuition fees. “Education for the 99 percent” read one.
Others echoed the anti-capitalist message of London’s Occupy encampment outside St Paul’s Cathedral, demanding: “Take the wealth off the one percent.”
The students are angry at the government’s education plans which they argue amount to privatisation of the system, and last year’s decision to hike university tuition fees and cut attendance payments for poorer teenagers.
The protests have also taken on a wider agenda to embrace opposition to reform of the welfare state, part of deep austerity measures to help cut a budget deficit which peaked at nearly 11 percent of gross domestic product.
Rising taxes, high inflation and a stagnating economy have hit Britons’ confidence and fuelled a sense of discontent with politicians and the financial sector.
As well as students, electricians and taxi drivers were staging protests on Wednesday ahead of a planned nationwide one-day strike on Nov. 30 by public sector workers.
The protest will be the biggest test for London’s Metropolitan Police since this summer’s riots when it was lambasted by politicians for failing to get a grip on the trouble, before it flooded the streets with officers.