Quebec protests resume after mass arrests

photo_1337926246365-1-2-Quicklook.jpgThe students were joined by retirees as well as families with children, all marching in a festive atmosphere
AFP – Rogerio Barbosa

Thousands of protesters returned to the streets across Quebec late Thursday in defiance of a new law regulating demonstrations and despite the arrest of some 1,000 protesters this week.

The latest protests came after the Canadian province’s government invited student groups to talks in a bid to end more than three months of demonstrations over a proposed university tuition hike.

In Montreal, thousands of residents hit the streets at 8:00 pm Thursday (0000 GMT), banging pots and pans and chanting against Law 78, a measure passed last week requiring activists to notify police ahead of demonstrations.

The students were joined by retirees as well as families with children, all marching in a festive atmosphere. “(Quebec Premier Jean) Charest, you are the pot and we are the spoon!” one banner read.

At least three separate processions were under way, with protesters chanting: “The special law, we will win!” despite an appeal from Montreal’s mayor for residents to remain at home and bang pots on their balconies.

Demonstrator Katie Nelson, 19, who traveled across the country from her home in the Alberta province to support the protests, said she did not fear arrest or the fines, which start at $600.

“Being fined for protesting and demonstrating is silly. I am not afraid of being arrested for fighting for democracy,” she said, adding that she expects Law 78 to be ruled unconstitutional.

photo_1337929106079-1-2-Quicklook.jpgProtesters ignored an appeal from Montreal’s mayor to stay at home and bang pots on their balconies
AFP – Rogerio Barbosa

A similar demonstration attended by some 500 people was held in the provincial capital Quebec City, and other demonstrations were reported elsewhere in the province.

As with previous demonstrations, police declared the protests illegal but said they would not seek to disperse them unless there was violence.

The provincial government had earlier Thursday invited the student groups to a new round of talks, which could be held as soon as early next week, according to the head of one of the student unions.

Protests, some of which have turned violent, have raged for more than three months against a plan by provincial premier Charest’s government to raise annual tuition fees at Quebec universities by 82 percent, or $1,700, with the increase gradually introduced over five years.

Montreal police had said that Wednesday night’s unsanctioned protest would be tolerated if there was no trouble, but after some unruly behavior around midnight, they moved in and arrested 518 demonstrators.

Another 176 people were detained in Quebec City. All were issued with a fine exceeding $600 and released early Thursday, a police spokesman said.

It was the first time that law enforcement conducted such a large mass arrest in the French-speaking province.

On Sunday night and early Monday morning some 300 people were arrested and 10 injured in a night of clashes between Montreal police and demonstrators.

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