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London protests: This time the anger did not spiral out of control

They weren't as numerous this time nor were they as successful; the minority of students who wanted to bring violence to central London became locked in battle of wills against a strengthened police presence they had little hope of defeating.

Ranks of officers, some on horseback, blocked the road as the protest entered Parliament Square at Westminster, quickly closing the area between the Square and the Cenotaph on Whitehall. Some students, realising they would not be able to reach Liberal Democrat HQ or Downing Street, their original targets, took out their frustrations on a police van parked in their midst.

The battle became one between peaceful protesters and those intent on trouble. One by one, their faces obscured by scarves, the latter climbed on the vehicle, smashing its windows and attempting to tip it over.

As people pushed forward to reach the stricken van, a group of schoolgirls linked their arms around it. The aggressors stepped back for a moment before some went on, hitting the windows around the girls with planks.

"Everyone is concentrating their attention on the van. They should be trying to get past the police to continue the protest, not getting distracted by this," said one 15-year-old girl.

On the front line, police drew batons but only charged once. As darkness fell, the students waited to be set free, some dancing or playing music.

In a moment of reflection, Tom Mayer, a 23-year-old student from Newcastle, questioned the motives of the violent factions. "I asked some of them if they intended to study. Most said no," he said.