London, the capital city of Britain, is preparing for war after the Metropolitan Police said its forces are ready to pull the trigger on student protesters Wednesday.
Tens of thousands of students are expected to participate in a national demonstration on November 9th, organized by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts to defend education from falling into corporate greed and to reiterate their opposition to the increase in fees, and cuts to Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA), as well as privatization policies.
The London police (Met) have, for the first time authorized firing rubber bullets on protesters, and Scotland Yard said its forces have been equipped with baton rounds to launch an all-out crackdown on protesters to prevent a repeat of the unrests that rocked the country in August this year.
Police Commander Simon Pountain, who is in charge of the police operation, said armoured vehicles, known as Jankels, would also be on standby to prevent a repeat of this summer unrests or the chaos last year during the student fees demonstrations.
He said at least 4,000 officers will be on the streets to police the events as they unfold and to provide security for the property.
The march will start from the University of London Union (ULU), Bloomsbury at 12 noon, and will go on to the London City, where Occupy the London Stock Exchange (Occupy LSX) protesters camped out in the vicinity of St. Paul's Cathedral are expected to join students and other anti-cuts activists. National Union of Journalists (NUS) has also officially supported the event.
The government's higher education white paper, announced this summer, is one of the main targets for the student movement. It has been attacked by academics, students and university heads for its implications for access and marketisation.
A group of academics has issued an open letter stressing that they unreservedly support the education protest against the government's cuts and reforms to universities and other higher education institutions.
“We believe education is a common good and should be publicly and collectively funded through the tax system.
No amount of cajolery can convince us that austerity measures should make the future of critical thinking, independence of mind, creativity scientific exploration, legal understanding and medical innovation subject to business principles. Our research and teaching promote social justice and equality and we will defend those principles in theory and in practice”, read the letter.
The Metropolitan Police has a responsibility to facilitate peaceful protests, but its resorting to such an unprecedented use of force is reminiscent of tactics employed by dictatorships that the UK government claims to be ostensibly opposed to.
Plastic bullets, which were used extensively by HM's forces during the troubles in Northern Ireland, killed some 14 people, including 9 children, between 1973 and 1981.
The president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, Sir Hugh Orde, who deployed plastic bullets while serving in Northern Ireland, strongly criticized the latest Met's decision.
"I do not think it would be sensible in any way, shape or form to deploy water cannon or baton rounds in London. Baton rounds are very serious bits of equipment. I would only deploy them in life-threatening situations. What is happening in London is not an insurgency that is going to topple the country," he told the Guardian
Police authorities have also supported “kettling” as an effective tool to clamp down protesters. “Kettling”, however, is described by human rights activists as an inhumane way of policing protesters.