Police and protesters clash as parliament votes on school fees
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Britain's coalition government faces its biggest challenge to date on Thursday as parliament votes on whether to allow universities to triple tuition fees to up to £9,000 a year, as police clashed with protesters in London.
AFP - Angry demonstrators clashed with police in a student protest outside parliament Thursday as the coalition government faced its biggest test yet in a vote on proposals to triple university tuition fees.
Demonstrators surged into Parliament Square, in front of the Houses of Parliament, as lawmakers prepared to vote on moves to allow universities in England to charge annual fees of up to 9,000 pounds (14,200 dollars, 10,700 euros).
Students repeatedly tried to break through a police cordon around parliament but were forced back by officers with batons, while other police on horseback patrolled the crowd.
Demonstrators set fire to what appeared to be a plastic and glass cabin in the square, sending flames leaping into the night sky, an AFP reporter at the scene saw.
Earlier, demonstrators tried to break through barricades erected around parliament and attempted to hurl sections of fencing at the line of officers.
Several protesters had suffered head wounds and at least three police officers were taken to hospital, including one with a serious neck injury.
One student, 23-year-old Julyan Phillips, who attends Goldsmiths College in London, had blood pouring down his head.
He told AFP a policeman had struck him with a baton as he tried to remonstrate with the police tactics.
"The guys who were next to me were pushing a metal fence towards them but a policeman decided to lash out at me instead with a baton.
He added: "Education is a right, not a privilege. All these cuts will do is polarise the rich and poor."
The violence echoed the scenes at earlier protests over the fees issue.
Superintendent Julia Pendry of London's Metropolitan Police said she was deeply disappointed by the behaviour of protesters.
"It is absolutely obvious that people have come to London with the intention of committing violent disorder, not coming for peaceful protest," she told reporters.
"There has been seven arrests and three officers injured and they are in hospital. Obviously there has been a continued unprovoked attack by protesters."
She said the police had been forced to use "containment" tactics, also known as kettling -- a controversial practice that involves officers hemming in protesters and barring them from leaving the area.
Speaking about her colleagues, she added: "They came to work this morning to facilitate peaceful protest and end up being attacked by missiles, flares and other objects."
The proposal to raise fees has exposed deep tensions within the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition which came to power in May.