May 31, 2012 / 11:39 PM / 5 years ago

Talks to end Quebec student strike break down

(Reuters) - Talks broke down between Quebec’s provincial government and student leaders on Thursday, scuttling a bid to settle a sometimes violent strike that started nearly four months ago.

Quebec's Premier Jean Charest speaks during a news conference at the National Assembly in Quebec City, May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Mathieu Belanger

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said negotiations had been suspended because the parties were at an impasse.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” he said at a press conference in Quebec City. “Despite the fact that the talks were ... constructive, there is an important gap which separates the government and the student groups.”

Education Minister Michelle Courchesne said student leaders had been unwilling to accept any tuition increases.

The conflict began when the government announced it would raise fees by 75 percent over five years. About 155,000 students, or more than a third of Quebec college and university students, are on strike.

Protesters have clashed with police in the streets of Montreal and in one instance set off smoke bombs in the city’s subway, shutting down the system.

Students, resisting what they see as European-style austerity, say the tuition hikes would leave them deep in debt.

In recent weeks demonstrators have also targeted a new anti-protest law, which requires advance notice of demonstrations and sets out stiff fines for those who disobey. The students, unions and around 70 community groups are challenging the law in court. They argue much of it is unconstitutional.

Time is running out to solve the dispute before Montreal hosts its Grand Prix Formula One race on Sunday June 10. The annual event is important to the city’s tourism sector.

“We’re certainly going to organize several demonstration in the weeks and months ahead,” said Paul-Émile Auger, head of Table de concertation étudiante du Québec, one of the student groups involved in the talks.

“Until there’s a solution to the crisis, we’ll keep making ourselves heard.”

Reporting By Randall Palmer and Leila Lemghalef.; Writing by Allison Martell; editing by Christopher Wilson

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