Montreal erupted last night as talks between students and the government over university tuition hikes broke down, leading to a continuation of the students' 10-week strike. Protesters hit the streets once again, and they were met with riot police resulting in 85 arrests.
The breakdown happened when one of the student groups, CLASSE, which represents half the students on strike, was excluded from the talks.
CLASSE spokesperson Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois slammed the move, saying, "The government is using the old strategy of divide and conquer." And added, "The minister is trying to weaken the student movement."
* * *
* * *
The violence followed a breakdown in talks between the two parties to end an 11-week fight over tuition hikes.
The government said one of the student groups, C.L.A.S.S.E., broke the truce by protesting Tuesday and condoning violence on its website and booted it from talks Wednesday.
"You can't play both sides," Education Minister Line Beauchamp said. "I regret that this (group) has chosen its camp."
That prompted two other students groups to walk out in protest leading to the street demonstrations and subsequent riot.
The leader of one student group said the talks are suspended until the banned group is invited back to sit at the table again.
Martine Desjardins, of the Quebec Federation of University Students, told CTV's Canada AM the early discussions revolved around issues like student aid and not tuition fees.
* * *
Within moments of the end of the talks Wednesday, there were protesters spilling into the streets of Montreal and Quebec City.
By day's end, thousands more were marching in Montreal, denouncing the Charest government and demanding general elections.
A few people in the crowd wore masks. Some fired paintballs at police and media. Cars were vandalized. Windows were smashed at several banks and other businesses. At one point, some protesters reportedly stepped in to stop others who had tried attacking a Chapters bookstore.
Police responded by pepper-spraying protesters and the journalists in their path; some demonstrators decried the one-size-fits-all police response as excessive.
Protest groups say a negotiated settlement was never in the cards, and they accuse the government of sabotaging the talks.
They say the government only cares about diverting public attention - away from the planned tuition increase, and onto the issue of social unrest.