AMID A HEAVY police presence, thousands of students marched through central London earlier today to protest cuts to public spending and a big increase in university tuition fees.
Police said more than 2,000 people took part in the march, which set off from the University of London at midday with chants of “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts.” Organisers estimated the crowd at 10,000.
About 4,000 police officers were deployed along the route.
Previous student protests have ended in violence by a minority of demonstrators, including a spontaneous attack on a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla in December.
Police said 24 people were arrested, most for breach of the peace and public order offenses, but the march was largely peaceful as demonstrators made their way through the city centre.
At Trafalgar Square, a group of protesters erected more than 20 tents at the foot of Nelson’s Column in the latest spinoff of the Occupy Wall Street protest camp movement. The tents were quickly cleared away by police.
The marchers had planned to link up with an existing protest camp against corporate greed outside St Paul’s Cathedral, but were stopped by lines of police in riot gear.
Annette Webb, an international development student at Portsmouth University, said tripling tuition fees to £9,000 from next year “will price out most students.”
“It will mean that education is only for the rich and I believe it should be for everyone,” she said.
Police had warned that anyone involved in criminal activity during the march would face arrest and prosecution. Police said protesters may face being “kettled” — contained inside a cordon — if there is a threat of serious disorder.
Protest organisers accused the police of trying to intimidate marchers after reports that officers would be authorised to use rubber bullets if violence broke out. London police said officers along the route would not be issued with rubber bullets and they would only be used in “extreme circumstances.”