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London student demonstration sees arrests and scuffles

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Police have made 11 arrests after thousands of students marched through London protesting against education cuts, tuition fees and student debt.

Two were held after charging at police guarding the Conservative Party headquarters in central London.

The Free Education march was called to oppose tuition fees of up to £9,000.

The march was not endorsed by the National Union of Students, but was backed by groups including the National Campaign Against Fees And Cuts.

The largely peaceful demonstration ended with a rally in Parliament Square after protesters broke through barriers to gain entry.

Some of them broke off to other parts of central London where there were clashes with police.

A small group pushed a wheelie bin at police at the entrance to the nearby Tory offices where a man and woman were arrested for affray.

The other arrests included two for assaults on police officers, one for criminal damage and possession of an offensive weapon and another for violent disorder.

The Metropolitan Police said three officers had suffered minor injuries.

“Various missiles were thrown at the officers and protesters pulled down protective fencing around the grass area in Parliament Square,” the force said in a statement.

Demonstrators chanted slogans such as “books not bombs” and carried banners saying “free education, tax the rich”.

One student, 20-year-old Hannah Stewart from Central Saint Martins college, said: “I’m here because three quarters of students cannot pay their debts off.

“We have no alternative and there is no choice. Voting hasn’t worked, but we have things that work – arts, literature, petitions and protesting.”

BBC education correspondent Sean Coughlan said those gathered in Parliament Square earlier listened to speeches and chanted slogans.

One group of protesters made their way to the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills where they were met by riot police.

A Starbucks coffee shop was also targeted, with demonstrators chanting criticism of the company’s tax affairs.

###’Making us pay’

Demonstration organiser Aaron Kiely said the protest was the beginning of a “major wave of action” running up to next year’s general election.

“We want to end the lifetime of debt which is a massive burden for students,” he said.

“Students are really angry because we go to university and then at the end of it we get an average of £40,000-worth of debt. That puts you in a hell of a difficult position when you start to think about a mortgage and a family.

“We need an alternative.”

Graduate Sarah Bates added: “They are making us pay for the banking crisis, austerity and cuts are making problems for everybody, and people don’t know how or where to voice their opinions.”

The march was supported by groups including the Student Assembly Against Austerity and the Young Greens.

But it was not endorsed by the National Union of Students (NUS), whose central London headquarters was daubed with graffiti, including the word “scabs”.

Before the march, the union warned that it posed “an unacceptable level of risk” to members.

A spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said that university admission figures showed that the current fees system had not deterred disadvantaged students from applying – and that, in fact, numbers of applicants had risen.

“We recognise the right of all students to free speech. However, the world-renowned calibre of the UK’s higher education system would not be sustainable if tuition fees were removed,” the spokesman said.

“Our reforms were necessary to further strengthen the quality of our system and this summer the OECD described the UK as one of the few countries that has developed a sustainable funding system for its universities.”

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“London student demonstration sees arrests and scuffles”