Quebec: Mass arrests & peace talks

Surreal scenes of mass arrests in various parts of Quebec, with over 650 people rounded up in different cities for a variety of reasons, have spurred a new attempt at resolving a dispute that has catapulted the province onto international news pages.

The provincial education minister said Thursday that she expected to hold a "very, very important" meeting with student groups after having had positive discussions over the phone.

A new point man has been assigned to help resolve the crisis: Premier Jean Charest has replaced his chief of staff with a well-regarded veteran who once served in that same role for him, bringing back Daniel Gagnier from political retirement with a mandate to make peace.

Restoring order in time for the tourist-filled festival season, which starts in only a few weeks, appears a monumental task given the events that unfolded in the wee hours.

A peaceful evening march that began with people festively banging pots and pans ended with police using the controversial "kettling" tactic on a crowd of demonstrators and arresting 518 people in Montreal. Scores of others were arrested elsewhere in the province.

The Quebec incidents have drawn the attention of the world's media, with the unrest receiving prominent coverage in many major international news outlets.

Some of the international coverage has depicted the protests favourably, as an example of youth mobilizing for a brighter future, while other coverage has focused on the scenes of disorder such as those that unfolded overnight.

"Six-hundred-fifty-one, that's the number of arrests yesterday ... of ordinary citizens, men, women, young people arrested because they wanted to voice their opposition to decisions of the Liberal regime," PQ Leader Pauline Marois said, calling it the worst social crisis in Quebec's history.

"That's where the Quebec Liberal Party has taken us: mass arrests, more often than not arbitrary ones, to silence opposition."

Kettling is a police tactic widely used in Europe where riot cops surround demonstrators and limit or cut off their exits. It has been widely criticized because it often results in the scooping up of innocent bystanders as well as rowdies. A recent report by Ontario's police watchdog blasted Toronto police for their use of kettling during the G20 summit two years ago.

The Montreal demonstration was the 30th consecutive nightly march since the student protest against tuition fee increases began more than three months ago.

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