Montreal police detain a demonstrator, Tuesday May 22, 2012.
Credits: PHOTO ERIK PETERS/AGENCE QMI
MONTREAL - Protesters turned downtown Montreal streets into a sea of red Tuesday as students, union leaders and even teachers marked the 100th day of a strike that has garnered international attention.
The rally and march by 150,000 people was one of the biggest signs of opposition to Premier Jean Charest's planned $1,800 tuition hike over seven years.
Labour associations and moderate student leaders called on members to obey the controversial law, Bill 78, passed last week. It stipulates that any protest group of more than 50 people must advise police eight hours in advance, but the radical CLASSE student group broke away from the main protest for an unannounced march in violation of the law.
Several hours into the second rally, the event was declared illegal due to organizers not providing sufficient notice for the demonstration.
A few protesters also wore masks in defiance of a municipal bylaw meant to weaken the anarchist Black Bloc, a group accused of hijacking peaceful protests to cause riots. Others held signs that read "Bill 78 shame" and "resistance has become our duty."
The protests remained peaceful until about 11 p.m., when police arrested about 40 people.
Police ordered protesters to disperse after fireworks were launched into the crowd and clashes ensued.
The rally earlier in the day was the largest to date in a protest movement that has morphed from student unrest to general dissatisfaction with Charest's nine-year-old Liberal government.
Mothers pushed toddlers in strollers, their children's faces sporting red face paint, and a Muslim woman wore a red hijab and matching red shoes.
Dominique Fortier, who brought her 11-year-old son, said the special law was the last straw following a slew of corruption allegations.
"We're defying this government that abuses its power," she said.
"Kids follow their parents and it gets a discussion going. I'm happy that they can see that people are holding on to their freedom."
Leo Bureau-Blouin, president of the moderate FECQ student group, said he's ready to negotiate an end to the longest student strike in Quebec's history.
"The Charest government has chosen the track of repression rather than the track of discussion," he told reporters at the rally.
The government says student leaders are unwilling to budge on their position against tuition hikes.
The Liberals have also accused the hardline CLASSE of encouraging violence by refusing to condemn it.
More than 2,000 people have been arrested during the three-month strike, including more than 300 in the past four days since Charest's government began legislating attempts to end the violence.
The Canadian Federation of Students and the Canadian Federation of University Teachers both denounced the special law but Quebec's Public Security minister, Robert Dutil, says it is a legal measure.
"This approach is a common way in other countries," Dutil told a news conference in Quebec City, adding that it was a "reasonable tool for police."
About 30% of Quebec students have been on strike since Feb. 14, and the movement has garnered support from around the world.
American filmmaker Michael Moore and Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger have shown solidarity with the movement.
Groups in New York and Paris said via social media that they would hold rallies in their respective cities.