British press, PM slam "brainless" student protests

LONDON (AFP) – British Prime Minister David Cameron Thursday joined in condemning students who stormed his party's London headquarters, in a protest the press described as "brainless."

Cameron said those involved were "bent on violence and destruction" and should face prosecution, while also describing the police response as "not adequate" in a round of television interviews. from Seoul, where he is attending the Group of 20 summit.

Demonstrators clash with police as they try to gain entry to 30 Millbank, the headquarters of Britain's Conservative Party, during a student protest march, in central London on November 10. AFP

"Of course people have a right to protest peacefully but I saw pictures of people who were bent on violence and on destruction and on destroying property and that is completely unacceptable," he told the BBC.

"And we need to make sure that that behaviour does not go unpunished and we need to make sure that we don?t, as the police put it, see scenes like that on London?s streets again."

In chaotic scenes, thousands of people besieged the Conservative offices near the Houses of Parliament Wednesday, leaving 14 people hurt, half of them police.

The unrest came as tens of thousands of people marched through central London in protest at plans to roughly treble tuition fees for university students.

The press said the activists who stormed 30 Millbank scored an own-goal by shifting debate from the coalition government's plans to the limits of protest.

Around 50,000 demonstrators took to London's streets on Wednesday with a small group breaching a surprised and undermanned police line to break into the six-storey tower block.

The Times ran with the headline "thuggish and disgraceful," quoting Metropolitan Police chief Paul Stephenson, while the Sun splashed "brainless" across its front page, a jibe at the so-called "yobs" and unprepared police.

The right-leaning Daily Mail led with "hijack of a very middle class protest," echoing a widely held press-belief that militants had "whipped up a mix of middle class students and younger school and college pupils into a frenzy."

Once inside the building, some protesters managed to make it onto the roof before throwing objects, including a used fire extinguisher, at police below. It was this act which drew most ire from the nation's press.

"Yesterday a group of students struck a blow," the Times leading article said. "But they did not strike a blow for freedom, or for democracy, or fairness. They just struck a blow. And shattered some glass."

"They showed some knowledge of the laws of physics: if you climb on a roof and drop a hard object, you can inflict damage on those standing underneath."

The left-leaning Guardian was more sympathetic, offering qualified support to students who could face a debt liability of 27,000 pounds (43,500 dollars, 31,500 euros) if they complete a standard three-year undergraduate course.

"These were politically important events and should be taken seriously," the paper's leading article said.

"In spite of a reprehensible violent sideshow, this was a large protest with significant public support and the capacity to have a palpable impact on mainstream politics."

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