Massive Student Tuition March Paralyzes Montreal

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Tens of thousands of Quebec students descended on downtown Montreal Thursday afternoon for the latest in a series of escalating protests against proposed tuition hikes.

An imposing crowd, considerably larger than the one at Montreal’s famous 1995 pre-referendum rally, formed a kilometers-long sea of opposition to Quebec’s tuition increases, scheduled to take effect later this year.

In a spring laden with student demonstrations against the Quebec government, this was easily the largest.

The parade of protest was so long that its front end would be a full neighborhood – or even two – away from the tail end.

An organizing group boasted that the protest spanned 50 city blocks.  There were no violent incidents involving the chanting, placard-waving throng.

There were, however, reports of some protesters carrying sticks, that police confiscated. And there was a threat from a major protest group:

“If the government doesn’t announce a retreat on the [tuition] hike today the next step will involve actions that disrupt the economy,” the C.L.A.S.S.E. student group posted on its Twitter page.

The demonstration came two days after the provincial budget and a blunt refusal by Premier Jean Charest’s government to back down on the hikes.

Students have been staging almost daily protests for the last several weeks and blocked a major commuter bridge on Tuesday.

Police have also ramped up tactics and have used chemical sprays against the demonstrators.

A smaller group of students started the day of action early, gathering at the Berri/UQÀM metro station just before 8 a.m. ET. About 100 protesters said they were planning a surprise action that would have an “economic disruption.”

Just before 9 a.m., the group moved into the metro. A half-hour later, they emerged from the Honoré-Beaugrand metro station in the city’s east end and marched toward the Port of Montreal, blocking its entrance for about 30 minutes before moving on. Port officials said operations were not significantly affected.

Just before 11 a.m., the group headed into the metro system at the l’Assomption station.

Montreal police warned motorists to leave their cars at home and avoid the downtown area if at all possible once the main demonstration got underway at 1 p.m.

The march started at the corner of Peel Street and René-Levesque West then moved north towards Sherbrooke Street, before turning east.

Concordia University closed down both of its campuses in anticipation of the demonstration.

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