04/21/2012 11:59 EDT | Updated 06/21/2012 05:12 EDT

Plan Nord Student Quebec Protest: Police Arrest Demonstrators Outside Montreal Meeting


MONTREAL - Police moved swiftly to shut down a protest in Montreal on Saturday, a day after a series of violent clashes between demonstrators and officers in riot gear created havoc in the downtown core.

Eighty-nine people, some wearing masks and goggles, were arrested after Saturday's protest was declared illegal, said Montreal police spokesman Daniel Lacoursiere. A 24-year-old man was arrested earlier for obstruction of justice.

Demonstrators had gathered in the rain near Old Montreal to denounce a conference on Premier Jean Charest's plan to develop northern Quebec.

"I think people are starting to get frustrated," said Myriam Moore, a 21-year-old student at Universite de Quebec a Montreal, who watched the scene unfold.

"The police are abusing their power."

Lacoursiere said the gathering was declared illegal when protesters tried to bypass police and enter the convention centre, which had been closed off to everyone except conference participants.

Many protesters wore the red square that has become a familiar symbol of the student movement against the province's planned tuition hikes, though their grievances were farther-reaching.

Those protesting included a group of hardline Quebec separatists, along with students, environmentalists and First Nations groups. Lacoursiere said it wasn't clear how many of those arrested were students.

In response to the unrest, a group of 18 prominent Quebecers _ including Jean Cournoyer, a former cabinet minister under a previous Liberal government _ issued a statement Saturday calling on the Charest government and student groups to put an end what they described as a "social crisis."

They asked that the government stall its plan to raise university fees by 75 per cent over five years and find common ground with the students, or risk rupturing Quebec's social fabric.

Security remained tight throughout the day around the Palais des congres convention centre as police tried to make sure protesters didn't slip through. There were no reports of vandalism and protesters cleared out by late afternoon as the rainfall grew heavier.

Things were far more chaotic a day earlier.

Hundreds of demonstrators clashed with police outside the convention centre _ and some managed to get inside _ forcing Premier Jean Charest to delay his speech by nearly an hour.

Friday's protests resulted in 17 arrests and some of the most violent confrontations with police since the fight over tuition fees began more than two months ago.

Charest's highly-publicized Plan Nord promises to develop a 1.2-million-square kilometre stretch of the province's north over the next 25 years, but it hasn't gone over well with some nationalists and environmental groups.

He says the plan will create 500,000 jobs through new mining and energy production projects, while opponents contend it's nothing more than a marketing blitz and a sellout of Quebec's resources.

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