Quebec premier replaces aide, student arrests mount

Thu May 24, 2012 4:14pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

(Reuters) - The embattled premier of Quebec replaced a key aide on Thursday, the day after almost 700 people were arrested for taking part in the latest in a series of student demonstrations to rock the Canadian province.

Liberal Premier Jean Charest - under pressure to end the protests before the peak tourism season starts - moved to replace chief of staff Luc Bastien with veteran official Daniel Gagnier, who is already working quietly on the student protest issue.

A Charest spokesman denied media reports which variously said Bastien was paying the price for the continuing unrest and Gagnier would focus particularly on the students.

Quebec's Liberal government, determined to end three months of student unrest over planned tuition hikes, last week pushed through a tough law making it harder to protest.

Many students vowed to ignore the law and continue nightly marches through Montreal, where police arrested 518 people on Wednesday night - the highest number yet in a single day. Another 176 were detained in Quebec City, the provincial capital.

"Most of these people were arrested for taking part in a protest that had been declared illegal ... I'd like to reassure people that our goal is not to break the record for arrests," Montreal police spokesman Ian Lafreniere told reporters.

Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois, head of the militant CLASSE student group, told RDI television that the government had promised a meeting soon between students and officials.

Officials in Montreal, Quebec's largest city, fear television pictures of sometimes violent student clashes with police could deter visitors ahead of major events such as next month's Formula One motor race.   Continued...

Protesters march during a demonstration against a new emergency law in Montreal May 21, 2012. The law was passed by the local government last Friday to curb demonstrations, setting a requirement that police be informed of rallies of more than 50 people about eight hours before they take place. REUTERS/Olivier Jean