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Violent Tuition Protest Encounter Roils Royals

December 10, 2010 at 6:14 PM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: And next to Britain, where a vote to triple university tuition in Parliament yesterday triggered protests that turned violent.

We begin with a report from Simon Israel of Independent Television News.

SIMON ISRAEL: One defining image of last night’s demonstrations: a look of horror on Camilla’s face when their limousine was attacked by angry protesters. And the other is this 20-year-old London student, Alfie Meadows, who under emergency surgery after being allegedly hit on the head with a police truncheon. Both are now the subject of major inquiries.

PROTESTER: Off with their heads! Off with their heads!

SIMON ISRAEL: Scotland Yard has not denied reports that one protester managed to lunge at the duchess of Cornwall through an open window at some point on the 10-minute car journey. Channel 4 News is being told that that is now part of a criminal investigation into all the circumstances surrounding the attack.

It may have been a random moment, but demonstrators managed to break through the ring of royal protection. Charles and Camilla set off from Clarence House at 10 past 7:00 in an official Rolls-Royce, flanked by police motorcyclists. The royal party went up St. James Street and then turned right into Piccadilly.

At 7:15, their car turned left into Regent Street. And it was then surrounded by protesters, pelted with paint, and a rear side window smashed. Five minutes later, the convoy arrived outside the London Palladium, from which a shocked Prince of Wales and duchess of Cornwall emerged.

SIR PAUL STEPHENSON, Metropolitan Police Commissioner: That route was thoroughly (inaudible)in advance, including up to several minutes beforehand, when it — the route was still clear. The unpredictability of, I was going to say demonstrators, but I would rather describe them as thugs, and how they moved about — about the capital yesterday meant that the protection officers were placed in a very difficult position.

SIMON ISRAEL: Scotland Yard refused to comment on exactly just how close the armed protection officers came to aiming their guns at protesters.

But the bigger eye is on the bigger protest, the 25,000 or so who were kittled in this square last night by up to 3,000 officers.

DAVID CAMERON, prime minister, Britain: Of course there is a right to protest peacefully. There always should be. But there is not a right to go on the streets of London, wanting to pursue violence and smashing up property.

We want to learn the lessons from that. But, above all, what we need to make sure is that these people who behaved in these appalling ways feel the full force of the law of the land.

SIMON ISRAEL: Organizers and the Met had agreed a route from the University London in Malet Street to the Victoria Embankment. But by the time the march reached Aldwych, several groups had split away.

One crowd had tried to set fire to the Norwegian Christmas tree in Trafalgar Square. As the day wore in Parliament Square, attitudes had hardened. Scuffles broke out. And it was during one of these that Alfie Meadows, a 20-year-old student, is alleged to have been struck over the head with a police baton.

Today, police forensic teams have been going though the debris left behind. The student didn’t die, and other injuries were relatively minimal. Still, there was considerable damage to public institutions, and with a warning today from an anarchist element that there’s more to come.