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Conservative Party HQ evacuated after student protest

Hundreds of people were evacuated from the building housing the Tory Party headquarters today as a national demonstration against tuition fees descended into chaos.

A window was smashed at Millbank Tower in central London and eyewitnesses said students attempted to force their way into the building.

An estimated 50,000 students and lecturers were taking part in the demonstration against Government plans to cut university funding and charge students up to £9,000 per year in tuition fees from 2012.

One eyewitness who works at Millbank Tower, who did not want to be named, said: "The fire alarm went off and every one was evacuated from the building. There are hundreds of students outside. It looks like they are trying to get into the building.

"We were told that it was a false fire alarm because students were throwing smoke bombs into the building."

He added that around 300 workers gathered outside when the alarm went off.

Police pulled one demonstrator out of the crowd outside Parliament, wrestled him to the ground, and handcuffed him before carrying him away.

At Millbank Tower, TV images showed students inside the building, brandishing anti-fees placards.

The demonstration is the biggest seen against the coalition government.

Students from towns and cities across the UK travelled to London in coaches, with big university cities including Liverpool, Newcastle and Birmingham well represented.

Aaron Porter, president of the National Union of Students (NUS), warned the Liberal Democrats they would lose the support of a generation of young people if they continued to back the tuition fee hike.

"MPs must now think twice before going ahead with this outrageous policy," he said.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said the union had hired hundreds of coaches from across the country, describing today's protest as "a very significant event".

"It speaks volumes about the anger and concern of students and academics in further and higher education at what this Government is trying to do."

Under the Government's proposals, which represent the most radical shake-up of student funding for decades, the fee cap will be raised to £6,000, with universities able to charge up to £9,000 - triple the current cap - in "exceptional circumstances".

But unions have warned the controversial move will mean the end of affordable university education.

Scores of demonstrators rushed into the entrance hall, using sticks to smash CCTV cameras and standing on tables to encourage others.

One appeared to be wearing a policeman's hat.

The crowd to the side of the building scattered as the remaining panel of glass shattered, spraying fragments over them.

Police appeared to have abandoned efforts to prevent the occupation.

Thames House, the MI5 headquarters close to Millbank Tower, was sealed with heavy metal doors and police were guarding the rear exits.

A small proportion of protesters climbed onto the roof of the building next to Millbank Tower.

One worker said individual floors were taking the decision to send staff home early.

Mr Porter said a small minority of protesters had "hijacked" the march, describing the violence as "despicable".

He told the BBC News Channel that violence was not part of the organisers' plans, blaming the trouble on a "small minority" he believed had arranged it beforehand.

"We talked about the need to prevent anything like this and how important it was to act in a responsible way. Unfortunately a minority have undermined us."

An NUS spokesman said: "The trouble makers have let down students."

The rooftop protesters were greeted with boos as they threw a large metal fire extinguisher at police officers in riot gear who were guarding the entrance to the building below.

Cans and paper were also among several missiles thrown by protesters. At least two windows on the fourth floor of the building appear to have been smashed from the inside.

Meanwhile, protesters inside 30 Millbank ripped off ceiling panels and wires and sprayed graffiti.

More than a dozen protesters had reached the roof of 30 Millbank and were throwing water and paper on the cheering crowd below.

One policewoman with a bloody wound to her head was led away from the side of the building by two colleagues. A stick was thrown at her as she went.

A confetti of torn newspaper rained down on the hundreds of protesters gathered outside the Millbank atrium after students gained access to the upper floors of the building.

Water also poured down on them, seemingly from a broken sprinkler system above.

A red flare was let off as the atmosphere within the crowd became increasingly volatile.

The crowd responded to the heavy police presence with loud booing, screaming and chanting.

Students who had got inside the building's atrium tried to pull down the few remaining huge sheets of glass.

Others hurled stuffed pillows while the chants of "Tory scum" increased in volume.

A Conservative Party spokesman said that all its staff were "safe" but could not confirm whether or not they had been evacuated.

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