The UK government voted to increase university tuition fees to £9,000 a year, resulting in violent clashes in central London. London, UK. 09/12/2010
The long-awaited and widely loathed university tuition fee vote was passed by MP's, with a winning majority of 21. The decision to increase fees to £9,000 a year from 2012 sparked anger, violence, destruction and anarchy that had been simmering in the city all day, but exploded when the vote decision was announced.
To add to the anger that has been building for the past few weeks, British anarchists were supported by visiting Black Bloc members from France, Germany and Holland, who had definitely not turned up with peaceful protest on their minds.
Arriving in Parliament Square, trouble had already started, with bottles, cans , sticks & smoke bombs being flung at the police massed behind the solidly-erected barriers surrounding Parliament. The crowd surged towards them, with fencing being torn down from around Parliament Square and used to both bridge the barriers and also to be flung at the police. This was the cue for the Black Bloc to get stuck in, armed with DIY shields disguised as books, to attack & attempt to break police lines, whilst being coordinated by older, more experienced anarchists. These repeated surges continued for around 30 minutes, until the mass moved at speed alongside Westminster Abbey, in a possible attempt to get to LibDem HQ. However, they were met by more police on foot and horseback.
There then followed violent clashes, with protesters hurling Christmas baubles filled with paint, alongside golf balls and the more traditional varieties of riot missile. Police beat them back, on occasional with brutal force, and used horse charges more than once, surging into the crowd at high speed. At one point, disabled journalist Jody McIntyre was dragged out of the crowd by the police, and was put back into his wheelchair before being pushed away. The a number of activists who broke through massed outside the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, clashing with police there whilst watching what the larger group were doing and cheering encouragement to them. One young girl was pulled out of the crowd and thrown to the ground with such force that she possibly broke her leg, whilst another officer knelt on top of a protester and repeatedly struck them with their baton them whilst on the floor.
What followed this was strange - nearly an hour of silence whilst the vote proceeded, broken only by the ever-present police helicopter above, breaking the darkening sky with their nightsun lamp, watching a large group of young people gathered around a burning security hut for warmth. Once the vote came through and confirmed that fees would indeed be rising, all hell broke loose as predicted.
Making our way through police lines back into Parliament Square, we were greeted with the sight of fencing yet again being used to separate police from protesters, whilst another group smashed their way through windows into the Treasury. Only a few made it inside, but were soon removed by riot police inside the building. Following this, reinforcements entered the square and clashes with police broke out all over, with more missiles being hurled, including some rather large lumps of concrete, one of which nearly brained me. A police baton charge injured a journalist who was with a news crew, leaving him with a nasty gash to the head, and one of my colleagues had his lens smashed. This turned out to be one of many attacks on journalists and their equipment, with at least four photographers I'm aware of suffering broken equipment as a result of police targeting their lenses for a whack with a baton, as well as one receiving a clout the face with a riot shield, damaging his glasses and teeth, and another having his head stamped on after being pushed to the ground.
The police seemed to be moving in for a kettle, and not wanting to get stuck, the merry band of photographers I was with made our excuses and beat a hasty retreat, not wanting to risk being unlawfully detained for hours into the night. On reflection over coffee afterwards, it seems we came off lightly compared to some protesters - the sight of blood streaming from the heads of children will stay with me forever, as will the sight of a disabled man being dragged from his wheelchair and removed from the crowd. As many present claimed, this is only the start - how it will end is anybody's guess, but it's not going to be pretty along the way.