Could Student Protest Violence Lead to ‘Martial Law’ in the U.K.?

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Andrew Winning / Reuters

The violent escalation of the student protests against the tuition fees hike in London shocked many people, and now one of Britain’s top police chiefs is pondering the banning of future marches.

Sir Paul Stephenson, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, is having to consider new strategies to combat violent groups and individuals who hijack student protests, especially after his own police force was criticized for containing, or “kettling,” and assaulting innocent protesters. In a contradiction to the U.K.’s promotion of freedom of speech he has suggested banning protests, a move that observers say would leave the U.K. under a de facto state of martial law. “It is one of the tactics we will look at and something we will keep under review,” said Sir Stephenson, “and if we think it is the right thing to do then we will do it,” the Independent reports.

(See pictures of the protests in Greece.)

The most recent protest took place Dec. 15 and even more are expected to follow, despite the hike being passed by the U.K. Parliament on Dec. 9. One student who spoke to a TIME reporter during a protest (read about why they are protesting) compared the struggle to the riots against the Poll Tax in the early 1990’s and said that, “this isn’t the end” and, “we will continue to fight it.” Martial law would apprehend the student voice, which has historically been conveyed by protest, or as Aaron Porter, the Student Union President puts it, “Peaceful protest is an integral part of our heritage and it is the responsibility of the police to help facilitate that.”

(See TIME’s Top 10 of Everything 2010.)

Many oppose the violence spurred by the protests, but even Mr Stephenson acknowledges that a ban could “inflame” the situation.