LONDON: Thousands of British students angry at the government's plans to raise university fees vandalised official buildings and attacked a police van Wednesday in the second mass protest in a fortnight.
The crowd of students and schoolchildren, some of them wearing their uniforms, surged through central London on a nationwide day of protest, which also saw about 3,000 demonstrators gather in Manchester, northwest England.
Some students daubed the white walls of the Foreign Office with graffiti reading “Revolution” and “Smash The Cuts”, while others jumped over barriers to enter the nearby complex containing the Ministry of Defence.
“We're here to show the government how angry we are when we rise up,” one student, who did not want to give his name, told AFP after climbing on a windowsill of the historic Foreign Office building and trying to get in.
Unlike the violent protests two weeks ago when Scotland Yard admitted to being caught off guard, hundreds of police were on duty Wednesday to contain the crowds.
Three people were arrested for violent disorder and theft while a police woman sustained a broken arm in clashes with protesters, police said.
The students were protesting against plans by Prime Minister David Cameron's coalition government to triple university fees as part of widespread public spending cuts intended to pay off a record deficit.
Up to 50,000 young people protested against the cuts on November 10, which degenerated into riots as dozens of students ransacked the lobby of the offices of Cameron's Conservative party.
Elsewhere on Wednesday, about 3,000 people marched through Manchester and protests were held in the English cities of Leeds, Sheffield, Birmingham and Bristol.
Although the London march began peacefully, things turned ugly when an angry mob attacked a police van parked on the route.
They rocked it from side to side trying to overturn it, smashed the front windscreen, pulled off the wing mirrors and jumped on top of its roof. One man urinated on a front wheel and others daubed it with graffiti.
Other protesters remonstrated with them to stop and many deplored the violence, insisting that the demonstration should be peaceful.
Melissa Relf, 18, from Essex in southeast England, said: “We're not going to take this lying down, as the violence the other week showed. But it should be peaceful unless people hijack it.”
As the crowd progressed towards parliament, brandishing placards reading “Tory Scum Here We Come” and “Fight The Cuts”, police surrounded them and forced them to stop, a controversial tactic known as “kettling”.
Protest organisers said a group of scared schoolchildren were trapped in the crowd and police were trying to clear a path to get them out.
“These cuts are ridiculous. We'll do whatever it takes to stop them. More cuts will obviously mean more social inequality,” said Anthony Moore-Baspos, 23, a student at King's College London.
After targeting the Conservatives' headquarters on November 10, the protesters Wednesday intended to deliver a letter to the offices of the Liberal Democrats, the junior partners in the government, to demand the fees policy be changed.
The Lib Dems and their leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, have become a focus of anger because they explicitly promised to oppose any increase in tuition fees in campaigning ahead of May's general election.
On Tuesday, a handful of demonstrators hanged an effigy of Clegg as he gave a speech in London.
A total of 68 people were arrested during the previous protests, including 18-year-old Edward Woollard, who appeared in court Wednesday to plead guilty to violent disorder after admitting throwing a fire extinguisher from the roof of the Conservative party building. He will be sentenced at a later date. – AFP