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22 May, 2012 00:32

Student struggle: Montreal to mark 100 days of protests amid mass arrests (VIDEO)

Students in Montreal are gearing up for a massive rally on Tuesday to mark the 100th day of their protests against tuition hikes. It will follow a turbulent weekend, marked by clashes with the police and hundreds of arrests.

Over 300 people were detained and more than 20 were injured in the protests that took place on Sunday night, during which students clashed with police.Violence and chaos ensued, with protesters ripping large slabs of cement out of the roadway and throwing them at the police, who responded with percussion bombs and tear gas.

There were also reports of protesters jumping on police cars and throwing Molotov cocktails. After midnight, a fire hydrant was burst open, with water gushing out and flooding a nearby building.  Ten police officers and 11 protesters were taken to hospital. La Presse published a picture of a man who appeared to have suffered a head injury though it was unclear whether he took part in the demonstrations.Most of those detained were arrested en masse.  Even the police were staggered by the high number of arrests.

“I don't think we have seen this many arrests at one time,” police spokesman Ian Lafreniere told QMI Agency. Lafreniere also noted that overall, police had made close to 2,000 arrests since the beginning of the student protests in February. He also estimated that approximately 250 rallies had taken place since then.

Montreal-based journalist Justin Ling told RT that the overall mood of the crowd today should be peaceful, though some protesters might act provocatively. “There is definitely a neurosis about staying pretty peaceful today… but there are always a couple of rogue elements who do tend to take things a little bit too far, and once they provoke a reaction from the police things tend to descend quickly.”Speaking about the police reaction, Ling said it is mixed – some policemen are acting responsibly and not letting things “descend into chaos,” while others are overusing pepper spray and clubs. Ling adds that he himself was clubbed during the latest protest.Students in Quebec have been protesting against tuition cost hikes of $254 per annum over the next seven years. The province’s premier, Jean Charest, refused to roll back the plan despite the ongoing mass protests.

On Friday the local government also sought to curb the demonstrations by adopting a new emergency law to restrict protests. The law sets a requirement that police be informed of gatherings of more than 50 people, eight hours before a rally takes place. It also requires demonstrators to provide the police with the planned route for the protest. The law was denounced by those who took part in the weekend’s rallies, with many now calling it a cause for protest itself.    “Tonight was really about fighting an unjust law,” Concordia University graduate Jamie Klinger, who took part in Sunday’s rally said, as quoted by the Montreal Gazette “We’ll fight this in the streets and we’ll fight it in the courtrooms and it will die because the freedom of assembly is one of our most fundamental rights. These laws have no place in a democracy.”"In Canada we have a charter and one of the articles in the charter is the right to protest peacefully. Protesters are now saying that certain provisions of this new law (Bill 78) are infringing on the freedom to protest peacefully. So people are in fact retaliating even stronger,” said Michel Boyer, journalist for Astral Radio.“One of the most extremist groups has publicly said it is going to completely defy this new bill, go against it and continue protests,” he added.

In the meantime, the student protest movement managed to garner celebrity support over the past week. Rock band Arcade Fire were seen wearing the movement’s iconic red squares, while American filmmaker Michael Moore openly praised the students’ cause and featured links about the issue on his website.