Photo posted on Flickr by Semisara.
 
Violence flared briefly at an otherwise peaceful student rally in London as protesters furious against government plans to triple university tuition fees broke into the Conservative Party headquarters and vandalised the reception area. Our Observer was there.
 
According to student unions, over 52,000 students, lecturers and supporters marched past the House of Parliament carrying placards reading “Stop education cuts” or, more humorously, “Cameron, Kiss my Arts” and “Hogwarts is Free”.
 
Lawmakers in the coming weeks will vote on proposals to lift maximum tuition fees to 9,000 pounds (10,541 euros). The newly elected Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government plans to cut 2.9 billion pounds (3.4 billion euros) of state support a year for universities to help tackle a budget deficit that has soared to nearly 11 percent of gross domestic product following the global financial crisis. But protesters say the fee hikes will bar students from low-income families from reaching higher education.

“If they vandalise our public services, we will vandalise them!”

Ed, who preferred not to give his full name, studied mechanics at King’s College London and is now working as a waiter during a gap year. We reached him on his cell phone just as he was leaving the Conservative HQ at 30 Millbank, where protests turned violent.
 
There was a huge crowd in front of the headquarters when I got there, and I was literally pushed into the building when the windows were smashed open.
 
What happened was, some people managed to force their way into a side entrance, and began smashing things in the reception area. Police tried to stop them, but then they were overwhelmed by the sheer size of the crowd, and more people got in. Afterwards things went crazy, the main entrance was opened from inside, people were streaming in. Someone smashed a plasma TV hanging on a wall, others were drawing graffiti. I went up to the roof, there was a great view of the protest from up there. I saw two bonfires burning in the courtyard of the building, apparently people were burning posters.
 
The atmosphere was chaotic, but not really violent. Most people were just having fun, running around the building but not vandalising. I did see police get rough at two points: once at the beginning, when they were trying to stop people coming in, they hit several protesters with batons. Then when reinforcements arrived and they raided the building and were very aggressively throwing people out.
 
I think the vandalism was justified by the fact that the Conservatives ruling our country are vandalising our public services! The people protesting were students or other people who care a lot about education in this country, and who don’t think that just waving a banner or two outside Parliament is enough to protest. Direct action is needed against the criminals in our government who think nothing of spending billions on endless wars then say there’s not enough money left to pay for schools! The damage that was done today is nowhere near the damage this government is getting ready to do to our country.”
 
Protesters smashing the entrance-level windows of the Millbanks building, which houses the  Conservative Party headquarters. Originally posted on Flickr by Asif Khan.
 
 

"The anger was mostly aimed at Nick Clegg"

Our Observer Shailyn Shah, who plans to study geography at university next year, was protesting near Westminster. He sent us this account.
 
It was evident that there was more anger and frustration towards the leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, Nick Clegg. Students are some of the Lib Dem’s strongest supporters, the party really can’t afford to lose their vote. But, as I took a moment to look around at flyers and posters it looked like students were debating a no confidence vote with the Liberal Democrat Party.
 
Why is this? The party came up with a number of pledges on the election trail, most notably to scrap tuition fees. Yet, some months into the coalition, it seems that the party has moved a step backwards in allowing tuition fees to be substantially raised.
 
There was a great sense of unity between students of all ages and from all universities, colleges and schools at today’s protest. What was even more interesting was the powerful voice students were able to generate, with the sort of noise and shouting that only students are capable of." 

Images from the protests

Photos by Rob Dyson, originally posted on his Blog.
Photos posted on Twitpic by @BMAstudents.
 
 
Post written with France 24 journalist Lorena Galliot.