Student protest turns violent in Montreal

Students clash with riot police in front of the Loto-Quebec building in Montreal, March 7, 2012.



MONTREAL - Riot police used tear gas and pepper spray against striking students Wednesday in the latest violent protest against tuition hikes.

Several people were arrested as officers broke up a sit in at the offices of Quebec's principals and rectors' association.

News cameras showed officers being pelted with projectiles and responding by blasting crowds of students with pepper spray. The explosive sound of tear-gas bombs ricocheted against office buildings on Sherbrooke Street where students had erected a fence.

Police say they moved in because the student occupation was preventing patients from entering a nearby medical clinic.

The CLASSE coalition that represents 127,000 striking students insisted the demonstration was peaceful and that police instigated the violence.

Police noted that the student group refused to provide them with an itinerary for their march, but a spokesman for the umbrella association said "we have no legal obligation to do that."

Premier Jean Charest has drawn the ire of student groups with his decision to hike tuition fees by $1,625 over five years.

The increase roughly works out to a $300 increase per student per year, which would still leave Quebec with some of the lowest tuition rates in Canada.

The average annual cost to attend a Quebec university -- $2,519 -- is far lower than university tuition in other provinces.

Many of the demonstrations have been peaceful but other have degenerated into violence.

A sit-in last month ended with the ransacking of a Montreal community college, followed by 35 arrests.
Some student groups had warned that they would escalate their tactics to include violence.

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