Northern Ireland

Students removed from Belfast road protest

Police have removed students who had been blocking Donegall Square North outside Belfast City Hall.

About 30 students - out of a crowd of 150 - sat down on the road as part of a protest against plans to raise third level tuition fees in England.

Traffic, which had been severely disrupted, is now moving again.

A number of missiles were thrown at police during the protest and eight people were arrested. Three police officers suffered minor injuries.

Seven of the arrests were made for disorderly behaviour and one for drugs offences.

In a statement, police said: "Police monitored a crowd which was largely peaceful, however a number of people began to spill onto the surrounding roads.

"Police liaised with protest organisers in an effort to reduce the crowds before making a number of arrests in connection with disorderly behaviour."

Queen's University Students' Union said it "did not organise or support today's march which was mainly attended by secondary school students.

"The students' union movement across Northern Ireland do not support any illegal behaviour - we support peaceful, legal protests.

"We are deeply saddened that the concern of the wider public has escalated into violent behaviour."

Commons vote

Meanwhile, in Westminster 323 MPs voted in favour of raising tuition fees and 302 against. The slim majority of 21 was greeted with muted cheers from the government benches.

The move was opposed by all of Northern Ireland's sitting MPs.

Earlier, the new minister for employment and learning has warned that third level fees in NI are likely to rise.

Danny Kennedy said the Westminster vote would have a knock-on effect for NI.

"I think my instinct is that it is likely there will be an increase to the tuition fees and I have been warning of that for some time," he said.

"The situation is not entirely clear."

A review of student finance has already concluded that NI fees should remain at current levels. But Mr Kennedy said this was now being examined.

It's understood the new minister is waiting to establish what his Assembly budget will be, before making any decision.

Image caption About 150 students blocked the area in front of Belfast City Hall

He is also awaiting an updated report on student tuition fees as they apply in Northern Ireland in the light of the Brown report.

Although the proposals deal specifically with universities in England, politicians have warned this will affect thousands of Northern Ireland students who study there.

Mr Kennedy said he could not make a final decision without a budget and hit out at Sinn Fein for holding things up.

"Northern Ireland needs a budget. I do not know how much money my department will have particularly in respect of tuition fees.

"It is vitally important that the party that is holding up this process up of getting a budget, remove their blockages and bring forward a budget so that the Northern Ireland departments, the Northern Ireland ministers and the Northern Ireland people can be made aware as to the implications of the current economic problems we face."

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