Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Violent minority damage student cause

Whatever the rights or wrongs of the students' protests against the raising of university fees, it is inexcusable that the heir to the throne and his wife should be caught up in such violence.

The pictures of Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall under siege in Regent Street on their way to the theatre are scarcely credible. Thankfully they were unharmed, but obviously shaken, and the outcome could have been much worse.

Their vulnerability to a rampaging mob could have had the most dire consequences. Clearly it is incumbent on the Government and the police to provide full protection for the Royal Family so that such an outrage cannot occur again. The students have been presenting a solid front against the increase in fees, but the excesses of the demonstrations in London and elsewhere have severely dented their image.

The majority of the protesters were peaceful, but a hard minority bent on confrontation stole the headlines. People who had sympathy for the students' will have been alienated by the thuggery of their fellow-travellers.

The protests in London were particularly worrying, but those in Belfast also managed to grab the headlines. Some of the Belfast protesters were hardly more than children, and there was an element of trying to copy the zeal of their fellow students elsewhere.

The Belfast demonstration passed off relatively peacefully, though it greatly inconvenienced shoppers and others trying to get home after a day's work.

The police have been criticised by some people for appearing over-zealous in dealing with the Belfast demonstration, compared to the PSNI stand-off with rioters in the city earlier this year.

However, it is always difficult for the police to strike the right balance between over-reaction and the proper protection of the public. The real lesson of the students' protest in recent days is that arguments are more persuasive than street politics and violence. The next few months may also witness other violent protests against necessary cutbacks, but whatever happens, the authorities must uphold the rule of law.

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