Wednesday, 24 November 2010
REPORT ON THE STUDENT PROTEST TODAY IN LONDON
Riot police get brutal with students
Wednesday 24 November 2010 by Lizzie Cocker
Thousands of school and university students turned out on the streets of London today to voice their anger at the Con-Dem coalition's vicious assault on Britain's education system.
Following their embarrassment earlier this month, when thousands of students beseiged and invaded Tory HQ, riot police reacted against peaceful protesters with a brutal containment strategy, corralling crowds in Whitehall for several hours.
The University of London Union's Carnival of Resistance, which began with a few hundred people, swelled to over 5,000 as it passed Trafalgar Square - ignoring Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's plea for students to call off the protests.
The procession was expected to end with a rally in Trafalgar Square but the bulk of students broke away from the official route, weaving through traffic to end up on Whitehall.
Reading University lecturer Hannah Sawtell, who joined the march in support of students, said that young people had a right to be angry.
With plans to introduce £9,000 a year tuition fees and and brutal cuts to university budgets which are causing services such as crèches to close she said that she "definitely wouldn't have been able to go to university now.
"I was a single mum and, at the time, I got 80 per cent of my childcare paid for plus money to live on plus help with loans. And when I was a student it was only a grand a year to go to university."
Samba bands, drum and bass and hip-hop sound systems kept the atmosphere upbeat at first as students shouted "Tory scum here we come" and "No ifs no buts, no education cuts."
But then riot police and officers on horses threw a cordon around protesters, known as "kettling" and on a number of occasions police lines surged into students unprovoked.
Protesters were forced to push away barriers erected for road maintenance to create more space and avoid being trampled. Those who tried to escape the kettled area were violently pushed back by police.
Angry students responded by throwing smoke bombs and lightweight placard sticks, lighting bonfires and, at one point, a police van which was left in the middle of the sea of students was spray painted and smashed.
Labour MP John McDonnell said: "There was no violence whatsoever but the police surged and pushed them into a tight corner, putting people in danger of being hurt. It was a peaceful and good-humoured march and the police should have respected that but now they have provoked anger."
Forward Intelligence Teams from the Metropolitan Police could also be seen taking photographs of students and a number of arrests were made. these teams are notorious for taking photographs of protesters once they have been kettled, and creating files on them as "domestic extremists" even though they have committed no offence.
Earlier in the day police monitoring group Fitwatch had offered activists legal observer training before the ULU procession set off to ensure an increased level of protection for protesters from the pervasive police presence.