LONDON — 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.
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.World blog: London's winter woes
"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.