Royal couple attacked in violent London protests

Thursday, December 9, 2010

LONDON - British Prime Minister David Cameron late Thursday condemned as “shocking and unacceptable” a day of violent student protests in London during which a car carrying Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla, was attacked.

The incident involving the royal limousine came as protesters roamed through the West End of London, smashing shop windows and setting rubbish bins alight on Oxford Street, the capital’s main shopping centre.

The royal couple was being driven to a theatre performance when their black Rolls Royce was struck by objects and daubed in white paint. Windows were broken and the side doors were kicked in. Photographs showed the couple looking out, open-mouthed in shock.

“We can confirm that their Royal Highnesses’ car was attacked by the protesters on the way to their engagement at the London Palladium this evening. Both their Royal Highnesses were unharmed,” said a spokeswoman for Clarence House.

Charles and Camilla arrived safely at the theatre performance. Later, emerging from the theatre, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, was overheard saying that she was “fine”.

“There is a first time for everything,” she said.

Cameron condemned the “shocking attack”, adding that the attackers should face the “full force of the law.”

The fierce clashes came after parliament approved a drastic rise in university tuition fees from 2012, an issue that has aroused deep student anger.

After the vote, demonstrators rampaged through the government centre of Whitehall, smashing red telephone booths and attacking government buildings with rocks, iron bars and metal barriers.

Police said 12 officers were injured, at least two seriously, and 43 protesters were hurt and taken to hospital. There were at least 20 arrests.

Paul Stephenson, the chief of London’s Metropolitan police, said it had been a “disappointing day” for London as the police had tried to ensure that the protests would remain peaceful.

Protesters reported how they were attacked by police and hit in the face with batons.

Riot police moved in as some protesters attempted to smash their way into the Treasury building with iron bars.

“Cuts kill. Save the welfare state,” said a slogan daubed on the walls of the Treasury building.

BBC correspondents reporting on the scene were ordered by police to wear protective helmets, as rocks from concrete road blocks and other missiles were hurled by protesters.

A peaceful demonstrator, dressed up as Father Christmas, was led away by police for his own protection. In Trafalgar Square, an attempt was made to set fire to a huge Christmas tree, BBC said.

The increase in annual fees from 3,290 pounds ($5,200) to a maximum of 9,000 pounds has become the first major parliamentary test for the Conservative-Liberal coalition.

The loans will be repayable after students earn at least 21,000 pounds.

The measures were passed by 323 against 302 votes, reducing the government majority of 84 to just 21. They are due to come in in 2012.

A number of Liberal Members of Parliament, and some Conservatives, abstained, or voted against the plan. Two Liberal parliamentarians and one Conservative resigned government positions in protest at the fee rise.

The government argues that the increase is needed to secure the sustainable long-term funding for British universities at a time of austerity and budget cuts.

But critics maintain that students from less well-off backgrounds will be deterred from going to university in future.

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