Amid a heavy police presence, thousands of students and their supporters have marched through central London to protest against cuts to public spending and an increase in university tuition fees.
Police said more than 2,000 people took part in the Wednesday march, but local media reports estimated the crowd as large as 10,000 people.
“In the public and private sectors in this country, cuts are now being pursued enthusiastically by employers,” said Al Jazeera’s Lawrence Lee, reporting from the protest.
“Austerity has become the hallmark of the British government, but there are many people here who really don’t like it.”
About 4,000 officers were deployed along the route, which began at the University of London at midday with chants of “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts”.
“The government have literally let down a whole entire generation of people,” one protester told Al Jazeera.
Annette Webb, an international development student at Portsmouth University, said tripling tuition fees to 9,000 pounds ($14,000) from next year would price out most students.
“It will mean that education is only for the rich and I believe it should be for everyone,” she said.
The march remained mostly peaceful after police had warned that anyone involved in criminal activity would face arrest and prosecution.
Police arrested twenty-four demonstrators, and said in a statement that among the arrested protesters, three were for public order offences, one was for possession of an offensive weapon, 12 were for breaches of the peace, and three were for “going equipped”.
There was also one arrest relating to a suspect covering his face.
A construction worker who was demonstrating in support of the students told Al Jazeera that he had had enough.
“We’re coming for you. We’re going to fight this all the way,” he said. “We’re going to fight the government; we’re going to fight everyone [in order to] stop these cuts, turn this country around and bring the working man back to where he should be.”
Marchers had planned to link up with an existing protest encampment against corporate greed outside St Paul’s Cathedral, but were stopped by lines of police in riot gear.
Some protesters left the main march and erected more than 20 tents at Trafalgar Square, a popular tourist site in the centre of the city, in the latest spinoff of the Occupy Wall Street protest camp movement.
The tents were quickly cleared away by police, as demonstrators reacted to rumours that officers had been equipped with baton rounds by chanting: “You can shove your rubber bullets up your arse”.
In a statement, the Metropolitan Police said: “Officers policing the route will not be armed with baton rounds. These are carried by a small number of trained officers. This is a tactic which has always been available to deploy in the most extreme circumstances.”