Photos: London student protests

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  1. Angry protesters in London attack a car containing Prince Charles and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, on Thursday. Protesters cracked a window and hit the Rolls Royce with paint. The car then drove off. Protesters had earlier clashed with police outside British parliament as the government approved plans to increase university tuition fees. (Matt Dunham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. British riot police clash with protesters outside Parliament Square in London. (Carl De Souza / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. A protester throws a brick at the window of the Treasury building during student demonstrations. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Riot police hold their shields up to protect windows inside the Treasury in Parliament Square. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. A vandalized telephone box in Parliament Square. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Mounted riot police ride through Parliament Square. Small groups of protesters tore down barricades and threw paint bombs as police with batons fended off others in attempts to reinforce a security cordon near Parliament. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Student protesters stand in front of a fire in London's Parliament Square. (Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Lines of British riot police clash with rows of British students in Parliament Square against a backdrop of Big Ben. Tens of thousands of students marched on Parliament as MPs prepared to vote on raising university tuition fees. The proposals, which could see students being forced to pay up to 10,000 euros per year, have sparked outrage. (Andy Rain / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Demonstrators and police officers are surrounded by red smoke in Parliament Square. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. A student wields a long stick at advancing police on horseback. (Andy Rain / EPA) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Paint covers a police officer on Dec. 9. (Dan Kitwood / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. A protester stands on a barrier in Parliament Square. (Oli Scarff / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. British riot police clash with demonstrators in Parliament Square. (Carl Court / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. British police medics carry away an injured protester. (Sang Tan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. A police officer is helped by a medic during a protest in Westminster in central London. Demonstrators threw objects at police in the square in front of Parliament. (Stefan Wermuth / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. A protestor is detained by police during clashes in Parliament Square. Students were protesting about a plan to raise tuition fees from about 3,300 British pounds to 9,000 pounds. (Ben Stansall / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
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msnbc.com news services
updated 12/9/2010 6:01:08 PM ET 2010-12-09T23:01:08

Angry protesters in London have attacked a car containing Prince Charles, the heir to the British throne, and his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The couple were heading to a theater for a charity variety performance Thursday when their Rolls Royce crossed paths with a volatile gang of demonstrators who attacked the vehicle with fists, boots and bottles — and chanted "Off with their heads!"

An Associated Press photographer saw demonstrators kick the car in Regent Street, in the heart of London's shopping district. Protesters cracked a window and hit the vehicle with paint, the BBC reported. The car then drove off.

The prince's office had no immediate comment.

Protesters had earlier clashed with police outside British parliament in central London as the government approved plans to increase fees paid by university students despite a rebellion by members of the coalition government.

The lower house of parliament approved the plan by a majority of 21 votes, indicating that several members of the ruling Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition had failed to back it.

The students wanted the government to reverse course. They marched through central London, banging drums, waving placards and chanting "education is not for sale," as weeks of nationwide protests reached a crescendo.

Small groups of protesters tore down barricades and threw paint bombs as police with batons fended off others in attempts to reinforce a security cordon near Parliament. Despite minor scuffles, the massive march remained largely peaceful.

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The tuition vote posed a crucial test for both the Conservative's governing coalition with the Liberal Democrats and the government's austerity plans to reduce Britain's budget deficit.

The vote put Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and other Liberal Democrat leaders in an awkward spot. Liberal Democrats signed a pre-election pledge to oppose any such tuition hike and those protesting in central London were particularly incensed by what seems like a broken pledge by Clegg's party.

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"I'm here because the Liberal Democrats broke their promise," said 19-year-old Kings College student Shivan David from London's Trafalgar Square. "I don't think education should be free but I do think that tripling fees doesn't make any sense. We are paying more for less."

Inside the House of Commons and to the jeers from the opposition lawmakers, Business Secretary Vince Cable insisted Thursday that the new tuition plans were "progressive" as a heated debate over the proposal began.

University students and school pupils have staged a series of protests in recent weeks, with hundreds of demonstrators arrested and a building housing the Conservative Party headquarters being attacked.

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All of this has made Clegg one of the least popular politicians on university campuses. Protesters chanting "Nick Clegg, shame on you for turning blue" (a reference to the color associated with the Conservative Party) underscored the sense of betrayal, while the front page of the Daily Mirror newspaper called Clegg "the pathetic Pinocchio of politics."

The deputy prime minister defended his decision to support the proposals, saying the plans represent the "best possible choice" at a time of economic uncertainty.

"In the circumstances in which we face, where there isn't very much money around, where many millions of other people are being asked to make sacrifices, where many young people in the future want to go to university, we have to find the solution for all of that," Clegg told the BBC.

The government has made cutting a record peacetime budget deficit its priority and government departments have to reduce spending by some 19 percent over the next four years.

'Education is a public good'
Cameron's government describes the move as a painful necessity to deal with a record budget deficit and a sputtering economy. To balance its books, the U.K. passed a four-year package of spending cuts worth 81 billion pounds ($128 billion), which will lead to the loss of hundreds of thousands of public sector jobs and cut or curtail hundreds of government programs.

The government proposed raising the maximum university tuition fees in England from 3,000 pounds (about $4,700) a year to 9,000 pounds (about $14,100). Students reacted with mass protests that have been marred by violence and have paralyzed some campuses.

In response, the government modified its plan by raising the income level at which graduates must start repaying student loans and by making more part-time students eligible for loans.

Students have said the concessions are not enough to lessen the blow of higher fees. They say that under the proposal, piles of debt will plague graduates and make a well-rounded education unattainable for many.

Some commentators say the student protests could be a prelude to wider unrest as austerity measures start to bite and hundreds of thousands of jobs are lost in the public sector.

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"I'm a public sector worker and I think it's about more than just tuition fees; it's about showing people are angry with the way the government are going about reducing the deficit," said Henry Trew, one of the protesters.

"Education is a public good; everyone benefits from an educated society, that's what I think," he added.

The controversy has highlighted regional educational differences in the United Kingdom.

The Welsh regional government has pledged to subsidize the higher fees for any student from Wales who enrolls at an English university. Student fees in Scotland are just 1,820 pounds ($2,875) per year, sparking fears of a future stampede of bargain-hunting students from England. Northern Ireland's fees are capped at 3,290 pounds ($5,200) a year.

The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.

Video: Violent student protests turn London upside down

  1. Transcript of: Violent student protests turn London upside down

    BRIAN WILLIAMS, anchor: and his wife, Camilla , were attacked by protesters in their car en route to a show in London's west end . They were traveling in a lavish and highly visible Rolls Royce limousine, and the protesters apparently knew they were coming. The car was dented, hit with a paintball gun, a window was broken. Tonight's attack was part of something much larger, massive cutbacks in Great Britain that could triple college tuition and cut way back on social services. And something even larger still, a growing wave of economic downturn across Europe , including here, and the discontent that can often bring. We begin tonight with our own Stephanie Gosk in our London bureau . Stephanie , good evening.

    STEPHANIE GOSK reporting: Good evening, Brian . Today the future king of England was subjected firsthand to the backlash over budget cuts. Student demonstrators pelted Prince Charles 's bullet-proof Rolls Royce with paintballs and smashed a window while he and his wife, Camilla , made their way to an event in central London . This cell phone video captures the moment of the attack. The Duchess of Cornwall was visibly rattled. An eyewitness spoke to NBC News by phone.

    Mr. LLOYD PURSALL (Eyewitness): Camilla looks a lot more startled. She's -- she looked quite shocked and quite scared really. And it just kind of -- you do question why they didn't have enough security protecting them and why the car wasn't safe enough that -- to withstand the people breaking the glass.

    GOSK: The couple was unharmed, but the message was clear: British students are angry. The attack occurred in a busy commercial section of London just over a mile from the main demo outside parliament. Students gathered there all day while the government debated nearly tripling university fees, part of sweeping and drastic new budget cuts. While the politicians deliberated, students and police clashed. The skirmishes led to injuries on both sides. The proposed fees passed by a narrow margin, but they passed, and that triggered even more violence. At one point protesters used metal barriers, supposed to contain them, as weapons. Once word spread that the vote had passed, a lot of the hopefulness that these students had that they could do something about it has been replaced with anger. We're now seeing more protesters throwing rocks at windows and attacking the police. The teenagers we met say a university education is now impossible.

    Unidentified Man #1: It's the banks that caused this, yeah.

    Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.

    Man #1: And we're having to pay.

    GOSK: The new government , led by Prime Minister David Cameron , says they have no alternative. The budget deficit is just too high. It's the same pain being felt across Europe. Financial crisis has left economies sputtering and deficits surging, from Greece to Ireland . Austerity packages are triggering protests across the content. Today in London the police prepared for violence, but it was impossible to protect everyone. Prince Charles ' security detail was overwhelmed by protesters. In a "Dateline" interview this past August, the Prince of Wales did not seem overly concerned about his safety.

    WILLIAMS: And you don't have terrible security compared to our president, at least you can walk around.

    Prince CHARLES: No, no, no, no. No, no, no, no. But it's a different thing, really.

    WILLIAMS: Yeah.

    Prince CHARLES: I think for the president, it must be a nightmare, I'd of thought, with the amount of security.

    GOSK: Tonight, Prince Charles might have welcomed some extra protection. The current government could be hoping for some themselves in the next election.

    Brian: A wild day in London today . Stephanie Gosk covering it all. Stephanie , thanks for your

    WILLIAMS:

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