Student Protest Passes Off Peacefully

The Huffington Post UK   First Posted: 09/11/2011 18:53 GMT Updated: 09/01/2012 10:12 GMT

Thousands of students and activists marched through London on Wednesday in protest at rising tuition fees, with no repeat of the violence that marred previous demonstrations.

More than 4,000 officers were put on duty - the largest number of police to hit the streets since August's riots.

Scotland Yard has estimated that 2,000 protesters took part in the march, while the organisers of the protest put the figure closer to 10,000.

The heavy police presence on the streets of the capital was designed to prevent a repeat of last year's fees protest when Conservative Party headquarters in Millbank was attacked.

Only 225 officers policed that demonstrations and the Met are took extra precautions after anarchists threatened to turn the peaceful rally into a "sea of rage".

But while there were some incidents with around 20 arrests made, in the end there was little sign of widespread violence.

One student had told the Huffington Post UK ahead of the march that he did "not object to violence".

Mike Shaw, 20, said: "I'm going to protest peacefully but I don't think protestors being violent damages the cause. It does shine a bad light on the protest, yes, but if people want to smash a few windows then... We only got the attention of the press and government last year because of attacks at Millbank."

But history student Ben, 21, from Sussex University, who was taking part in the rally, said the vast majority of demonstrators were pleased it appeared to have passed off without any serious outbreaks of violence.

"I'm really pleased with how today went," he said. "I think most of us are. Obviously some people wanted there to be trouble so the police would react and there would be more of a story for the media but I think they're in the minority.

He added: "We're educated young people. We know the answer isn't violence."

"Whether today will make the government sit up and listen I don't know. I guess we will have to wait and see."

After the main protest had made its way to St Paul's Cathedral in the City, some demonstrators gathered to listen to a Billy Bragg sing-a-long.

While Pete Seeger, the American folk singer, was spotted swaying by a fence, smoking a pipe, backed by a peace flag in the sunset.

Unlike previous protests the organisers chose to target London's financial institutions rather than Parliament.

One financial adviser told HuffPoUK he had "no sympathy for either bankers or students."

"Its the middle classes kicking up the fuss," he said. "The ones protesting are the ones who can afford to take the time off. Those who are really poor can't just protest when they feel like it."

"I was the first in my family to go to university. I'm working class. Education is the only way for the lower classes to get out- its a fact. If you want to get a good job, it does cost you. I think those protesting should put their money where their mouth is."

Liam Burns, the NUS President, said the protest had been staged to fight the coalition's education policies. He also raised concerns about the police's handling of the protest.

"It's hardly surprising that young people are continuing to protest against a government that has put our future at risk," he said.

"The assault on higher education with the triple whammy of fees, cuts and white paper proposals which attempt to create a rigged university market have caused much anger and frustration.

"The doors to education are being slammed shut with the scrapping of EMA and youth unemployment is at a record high. Without real change and opportunity the next generation's dissent will grow.

He added: "Some serious questions need to be asked about the Met's handling of messaging concerning this protest. Talk of rubber bullets and direct mailings to students who attended past protests is dangerously close to a clear agenda of either discouraging peaceful, legitimate protest or heightening tensions before a single protestor even arrived in London."

A separate branch of the protest also sprung up in Trafalgar Square, with demonstrators attempting to set up a camp similar to the Occupy London protest outside St Paul's. But police moved in quickly to remove tents and protesters in the square.

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