LONDON – British police made 153 arrests during student demonstrations in London on Tuesday against proposed university tuition hikes, officials said.
Police reported the arrests following a day of cat-and-mouse between demonstrators and riot officers that culminated in a violent standoff in the capital's Trafalgar Square.
Students are furious over the coalition government's decision to allow schools to triple the cap imposed on tuition fees, allowing the best universities to charge up to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) per year in a bid to reduce the burden on Britain's debt-laden public sector. British students currently pay up to 3,000 pounds ($4,675).
Earlier this month, activists tried to ransack the governing Conservative Party's headquarters in London in a protest, touching off a wave of demonstrations.
"We need to keep up this momentum because eventually we'll get through to them and we can start negotiations," said Shayan Moghedam, 17, from Woodhouse College in north London. "This is not something that can just be ignored and the fact that students keep coming out week after week proves that."
Moghedam was one of thousands of young demonstrators marching, staging sit-ins at university campuses and — in at least one case — occupying local government offices.
The demonstrations were mostly nonviolent — Police in Birmingham praised students for their sensible and "wholly peaceful" protest. But in London, demonstrators veered from the planned route and scattered across the wintry streets. Lines of police in fluorescent yellow vests stood guard outside Parliament, where lawmakers were debating the merits of the fee hikes.
As evening fell, protesters congregated in Trafalgar Square, vandalizing Nelson's Column — erected in the honor of the British naval hero — and attacking nearby businesses. Police said two officers were injured in the clashes.
Elsewhere, thousands of students from the southwest English city of Bristol's two universities marched on the city's shopping district. The demonstration was largely peaceful, although at one point protesters lit flares and pelted police with ketchup and mustard.
In the northern city of Sheffield, police guarding the constituency office of Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg shrugged off snowballs as they faced off against about 200 protesters.
Clegg — the leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats — has come under particularly stinging criticism over the proposed tuition hike. His party, which once enjoyed strong student support, had pledged to oppose any such move — only to renege on the promise once it joined the Conservative Party as the junior partner in the coalition government.
"Nick Clegg is a snake," said Grace Charlesworth, 17, also from Woodhouse College. "He said our educations didn't depend on the money in our parents' pockets but that is exactly what it will become. He is a lying snake who couldn't care less about our education."
Prime Minister David Cameron said Tuesday students have "a responsibility to know the full facts about what they are objecting to."
"This is a solution that is fair on the taxpayer in a time of financial anxiety," he said in a statement. "It's fair on the student, who will get better teaching and it's fair on the graduate, who will pay when they can afford it."
Back on the frozen streets of the British capital, students weren't buying it.
"I honestly just feel cheated by the entire system," said Victoria Rabin, 18, of west London. "I don't know what the right thing to do is, but I want my voice to be heard. There has to be some sort of middle ground."
Raphael G. Satter contributed to this report.