Sat, Dec 11, 2010 - Page 1 News List

British coalition rocked by riots over tuition fees vote

POLICE UNDER FIRE:Scotland Yard defended its actions after students attacked Prince Charles’ car, saying officers had shown restraint in not shooting the demonstrators

AFP, LONDON

The narrow victory for Britain’s ruling coalition in Thursday’s vote to hike university tuition fees signals the start of a tough period for the young government, newspapers said yesterday.

After a day marred by violent protests by thousands of people in London that left dozens of police and students injured, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition survived its biggest test yet and won the parliamentary vote on Thursday.

However, the margin of victory was slimmer than expected — 323 to 302 — and the issue has exposed divisions in the seven-month-old coalition, particularly in the ranks of junior partner the Liberal Democrats. Many of the party’s lawmakers voted against the plan in the House of Commons because it went against one of their pre-election pledges.

“The vote was won, but divisions and wounds have been exposed in the most public way,” wrote Martin Kettle in the Guardian. “Things will never be the same.”

The vote “was about whether the coalition could survive. The coalition came through, just,” he wrote. “But it has paid a price all the same.”

The Daily Telegraph praised the coalition for holding its nerve in the face of fierce opposition.

There was widespread condemnation of the violence that erupted in protest at moves to hike the fees in 2012. Police and some protesters clashed outside parliament and across London, with rioters trying to storm the finance ministry and at one point attacking a car that was carrying Prince Charles and his wife Camilla to the theater.

Thirty-four people were arrested and at least 43 protesters and 12 police officers were injured, according to police figures.

Police defended their response to the attack on the car carrying Prince Charles and his wife. Rioters broke a car window and spattered the car with paint.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the head of the Metropolitan Police, said the couple’s route had been thoroughly surveyed minutes before the attack, adding that armed royal protection officers had shown restraint by not opening fire on protesters.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said the “mob” must be arrested and punished.

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