Week-long demonstrations over a proposed rise in university tuition fees have erupted into violence in Quebec. Police in Montreal clashed with thousands of students who accuse the government of sabotaging negotiations for a settlement.
Riot police have so far arrested 85 people after a government exclusion of a student group from talks triggered activist ire.
Students have flooded Montreal’s streets over the past few days, up in arms over tuition fee hikes that would see costs rise by 75 percent over the next five years.
Thursday’s riots were declared illegal after demonstrators reportedly pelted police officers with projectiles and threw garbage into the streets.
Demonstrations on Wednesday quickly descended into violence with reports of student activists smashing windows and vandalizing property. Police used tear gas to bring them under control, with three officers injured in the fighting.
A police crackdown on student demonstrations on Saturday 21 also led to the arrest of at least 50 people.
The Quebec government has dismissed a student syndicate from the negotiating table following the violent riots.
Education Minister Line Beauchamp blocked a proposal to resume talks with student syndicate CLASSE on Thursday, accusing the group of promoting violence.
"We can’t ask the government to negotiate with those who use violence as a form of blackmail," Beauchamp said.
Talks are due to resume with two other groups representing university and college students on Friday.
The city’s mayor Gerald Tremblay has appealed for student activists and the local government to make peace before the situation escalates further. He cited reports of demonstrators tossing bricks into the city's subway and dropping rocks off a downtown overpass.
"Montrealers … are fed up. They don't want to go through this. This stuff always happens in Montreal. It's the same thing for the businesses affected… It's the same thing for Montreal's reputation on the world stage," he said about Wednesday night’s riots.
Student protest groups have accused the government of using a “divide and conquer strategy”, sabotaging talks. They say that a settlement was never on the cards, claiming authorities seek to divert attention from the disputed tuition fee increase with the pretext of social unrest.
Journalist Bernard Desgagne told RT that the incidents were “relatively minor,” but police were using them as an excuse “to conduct massive repression.”
“This has profound ramifications, people are very unhappy about the way their political elite are behaving and they feel that the government is not serving the people at all, it’s only serving big financial interests,” he said.
Desgagne added that people were “infuriated” by police brutality towards peaceful protesters, stressing that it would only “fuel public miscontent” and support for the student movement.
The Quebec government has proposed a rise in fees of $325 annually for the next five years, which would still make Montreal one of the cheapest cities to study in the country.