Cat-and-mouse game as protesters take to the streets again
Wednesday 01 December 2010
A policeman was injured after scuffles broke out at the end of a largely peaceful demonstration in London against rising tuition fees. In Trafalgar Square the windows of a restaurant were broken and graffiti was daubed at the base of Nelson's Column where fires had been lit. Five people were arrested for offences including public order, assault and obstructing police.
Walk-outs, sit-ins and demonstrations had been organised all over the country, with students also taking to the streets in Birmingham, Sheffield, Bristol and Leeds, where events passed more peacefully.
Organisers had tried to "keep the demonstration moving" in an attempt to prevent a repeat of last week's "kettling", a controversial police tactic in which demonstrators are herded together behind a wall of officers until they are bored, tired and hungry.
Lines of police marched alongside protesters and appeared to try the strategy only once. As the demonstrators made their way through the City, officers ran ahead and attempted to form two lines at a junction. But the stretched lines were quickly broken and the march continued.
Each side seemed to have learnt lessons from last week's ill-fated protest: just five people were arrested for public order offences, compared to the 41 arrested last Wednesday after a group of protesters smashed a police van.
"I have come all the way from Cardiff to join in because I was motivated by last week," said one demonstrator, Pookage Hayes, 20. As the crowds moved towards St Paul's Cathedral, he added: "The worst I have seen so far is a snowball thrown at a police officer."
A Met Police spokesman said the London march had set off at an earlier time than agreed.
"This meant that the march began without a police escort." The spokesman added that there was "never any intention" of containing the protesters.
However, there was widespread suspicion among protesters that police would try to stop the march, a claim that the Met denied. Sections of the crowd broke away during the course of the afternoon, as officers tried to block their path, meeting the main body of the march again at Trafalgar Square.
There, police blocked off the roads and a fight between two protesters threatened to spark trouble until police took them away. Later, officers moved to block off Nelson's Column after graffiti was sprayed on it. As darkness fell, tensions began to rise after the majority of the marchers drifted off and left a hardcore element intent on clashing with police.
Students in other parts of the country joined the protests, which were dubbed "Day X2". In Leeds, university and college students were joined by schoolchildren in a march through the city centre. One, Cleo Howard, said the demonstration was "upbeat" but that the number of police "outnumbered the students". Officers later prevented marchers entering Victoria Gardens, she said, adding, "I don't know why, as there was no reason to stop us going in. A few students at the front felt very threatened."
In Sheffield, around 200 protesters gathered behind police barriers 30 metres from Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg's constituency office. In Birmingham they occupied the council chamber and others demonstrated outside, while around 2,000 students marched in Bristol city centre.
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