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British students return to streets, vowing to press on against tuition hikes

Police confronted a wave of walkouts, occupations, and protests Wednesday by British students angry over government plans for sharp tuition hikes. More protests appear likely.

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Protesters break down a construction barrier as thousands of students protest against tuition fees at Whitehall in London, Nov. 24.

Sang Tan/AP

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Suddenly, austerity Britain in 2010 is beginning to resemble Left Bank Paris in 1968.

Or so it might have seemed Wednesday to onlookers witnessing a coordinated wave of student walkouts, occupations, and protests around the country as part of the campaign against government plans to raise the cost of studying at a university to up to $14,000 a year (three times the current rate).

Although protests this morning started peacefully, the calm began to fade at lunchtime as police struggled to contain thousands of students near government buildings in the Whitehall area of central London.

A small number of demonstrators hurled burning placards at riot police as a police van was isolated and attacked.

Two weeks after small bands of students clashed with police during demonstrations that involved as many as 50,000 students, all indications are that many students remain intent on using direct action to confront the government over the increases.

“There are new people coming to the movement – that is very noticeable,” says Clare Solomon, the president of the University of London student’s union, whose group is among the more militant student organizations.

The Internet is playing a central role in drawing more students to Ms. Solomon's cause. In fact, students in the city of Plymouth installed a live webcam to record their occupation of university buildings. Tens of thousands of high school, college, and university students who pledged on Facebook to walk out of classes began making their move at 11 a.m. Wednesday.

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