London: Protesters attacked government buildings and damaged a car carrying Prince Charles after parliament voted on Thursday to raise fees paid by university students in a vote which divided Britain's coalition government.
The move to shift the burden of paying for university teaching from state to student is the first test of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition's intent to push through austerity cuts as it tries to erase a record budget deficit.
It provoked fury from young protesters who have staged a series of demonstrations in recent weeks. Analysts say the seven-month-old coalition will hold together, but could come under increasing strain as cuts bite harder next year.
Some protesters attacked a limousine taking Charles and his wife Camilla to a London theater. The car was spattered with paint and a window was cracked, but the couple were unhurt.
Protesters laid siege to the finance ministry close to parliament, battering open a door and chanting "we want our money back" as they clashed with riot police on the threshold of the building.
They later smashed shop windows in Oxford Street, one of the main shopping streets in the capital. Mounted police were used earlier to try to disperse protesters outside parliament.
Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the violence.
"It is clear that a minority of protesters came determined to provoke violence, attack the police and cause as much damage to property as possible," he said.
"It is shocking and regrettable that the car carrying the Prince of Wales (Prince Charles) and the Duchess of Cornwall was caught up and attacked in the violence," he added.
The clashes were the worst political violence in London since a mass riot in 1990 over a local tax which helped to end to Conservative leader Margaret Thatcher's decade in power.
Analysts said there could be more to come as hundreds of thousands of public sector workers lose their jobs.
"There will probably be serious injuries if not deaths if this level of protest is replicated in the new year by militant unions," said Carina O'Reilly, European security analyst with IHS Jane's.
Twenty-two people were arrested and 10 policemen suffered injuries. A Reuters photographer was taken to hospital after he was hit in the face by a rock.
Police said tens of thousands joined the protests, including groups of hooded and masked youths who were at the center of the violence. Police had warned that, like in previous student demonstrations, violent groups could hijack the rallies.
The lower house of parliament approved the plan by a majority of 21 votes, with 27 members of the coalition parties voting against and a handful abstaining.
Two Liberal Democrats and a Conservative government aide resigned their posts over the issue.
"It's the lowest government majority of 2010 and lower than you have thought a couple of weeks ago," said Philip Cowley, professor of parliamentary government at the University of Nottingham. "It's not the first revolt and it certainly won't be the last."
Analysts say further divisions over spending cuts will make life in the government difficult for the left-leaning Lib Dems.
The Lib Dems campaigned against higher fees before the May election, wooing many young voters. Their opinion poll rating has halved since the election and leader Nick Clegg has been vilified for his changes in policy.
Students protested in their thousands across the country against the higher fees, arguing they will price out the poor.
The government has made cutting a record peacetime budget deficit its priority. Departments have to cut spending by some 19 percent over the next four years.
Under the tuition fee changes, universities in England will be able to charge students fees of up to 9,000 pounds ($14,100) per year -- almost treble the current limit.
First Published: Friday, December 10, 2010, 10:19