Thousands of students protested across Britain on Tuesday against government plans to triple university fees, clashing with police and running loose in London in a third day of action this month.
Organisers said 8000 people braved snow and freezing temperatures in London for what began as an orderly march but soon became a game of cat and mouse as fleet-footed protesters dispersed across the city, pursued by police.
They brought traffic to a standstill along major roads including Oxford Street, London’s main shopping artery, before several hundred regrouped at Trafalgar Square and began a stand-off with police.
Sporadic clashes intensified as darkness fell and the temperatures dropped, and protesters – including many schoolchildren – were contained in a controversial tactic known as “kettling.”
The windows of one restaurant were attacked and someone daubed “revolution” in graffiti on the base of Nelson’s Column.
Protests also took place in cities across Britain in a third day of action against government plans to triple tuition fees at English and Welsh universities to up to STG9000 ($A14,600) a year.
Prime Minister David Cameron insists there is no alternative as Britain tries to reduce a record budget deficit, but the policy has sparked the first violent protests against his coalition government’s austerity measures.
“I want to voice my opposition to the government because I think it’s appalling. It shows a complete lack of understanding for what is important,” said protester Joshua Mellors, 22, a University College London student.
London police said they were containing a group of 150-200 people and had made 153 arrests, seven of which were for violent disorder.
Ten protesters were detained in Bristol, southwest England, where thousands of students from the city’s two universities clashed with police and tried to occupy a faculty building.
However, the violence which marred the previous two protests in London earlier this month was largely absent.
On November 10, demonstrators ran riot and trashed a building housing the offices of Cameron’s governing Conservative Party during a 50,000-strong rally.
Two weeks later, members of a 10,000-strong crowd of students and schoolchildren attacked a police van and started fires.
About 600 people demonstrated in the south coast city of Brighton on Tuesday and 300 students gathered in solidarity in Edinburgh, waving placards reading “Education for All” and “No ifs, no buts, no cuts”.
About 200 protesters gathered near the constituency office of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in the northern English city of Sheffield, demanding he stand by the promise he made before the May general election not to raise tuition fees.
Clegg reneged on the pledge when his Liberal Democrat party became junior partners in Cameron’s coalition government after the polls.
Business Secretary Vince Cable, the Lib Dem minister in charge of tuition fees policy, apparently bowed to the pressure on Tuesday by saying he would likely abstain in the parliamentary vote on the proposal if fellow Lib Dem lawmakers decide that was the right thing to do.
“My own personal instincts … are very much to vote for it, but we have got to vote as a group, collectively, and we are discussing how we do that,” Cable told BBC radio.
The London protest began as planned, with several hundred people gathering at Trafalgar Square for a march to the Houses of Parliament, but the students broke up when they came up against a line of police officers.
Police said the cordon was set up to steer the march to one side of the road to avoid gas works, but a spokeswoman for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, one of the protest organisers, said it was intimidation.
“As soon as they saw the police with batons coming towards them, they started running,” spokeswoman Joana Oliveira Pinto told AFP.
She put the total number of protesters at 8000.