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Student protests hit central London

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A protester scuffles with police officers during a march by students against university fees

Protesters marching through central London against plans to increase student tuition fees caused traffic chaos as they fled police over fears they would be penned in.

Thousands of people scattered through London’s West End after they were confronted with massed ranks of police in Whitehall. They split into separate marches which wound slowly through some of the capital’s busiest shopping and business districts, including Piccadilly Circus and the Strand.

The Metropolitan Police denied plans to “kettle” protesters and said officers formed a cordon to guide the march away from gas works. A spokesman said the march started from Trafalgar Square earlier than agreed, catching police off-guard as they were not ready to escort it.

Two people have been arrested for public order offences but there has been no repeat of high-profile disorder seen during two previous marches. Police said the spontaneous marches have been largely peaceful but contributed to traffic disruption in the capital caused by snowfall and icy conditions.

The renewed protest, dubbed Day X and the third in recent weeks, came as MPs considered the proposals in an opposition day debate. Demonstrations, marches, occupations and vigils have also been held in Cambridge, Brighton, Sheffield, Newcastle, Bath, Nottingham, Bristol and Cardiff.

A total of 41 people were arrested last Wednesday after a group of protesters smashed a police van in Whitehall. Officers surrounded several thousand demonstrators, including many school children, for up to nine hours in a so-called “kettling” operation. The tactic has been widely criticised as disproportionate and unfair, but police argue it is a legitimate way of stopping troublemakers.

Violence also flared on November 10 after a march by 50,000 students when some protesters smashed windows at the London headquarters of the Conservative Party. MPs are expected to vote before Christmas on the Government’s proposals to increase the cap on tuition fees from £3,375 to as much as £9,000 a year.

Meanwhile, Nick Clegg mounted a staunch defence of the Government’s stance on tuition fees but refused to confirm whether he would vote in support of the policy. The Deputy Prime Minister faced repeated questioning on the issue in the Commons as protesting students again took to the streets around Parliament.

Mr Clegg told MPs “all graduates will pay less per month” under the Government’s proposals than under the regime inherited from Labour.

Earlier, Business Secretary Vince Cable, the minister responsible for the policy, said he would abstain in a key vote on the Government’s policy if that is what fellow Liberal Democrat MPs decide to do as a group. But Mr Clegg refused to be drawn on what his position would be during his regular session of questions in the Commons.

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