- Associated Press - Thursday, May 17, 2012

MONTREAL (AP) — Facing the most sustained student protest in Canadian history, Quebec’s provincial government weighed emergency legislation Thursday aimed at ending rallies and demonstrations against rising tuition costs.

Authorities said 122 were arrested late Wednesday as thousands of demonstrators spilled into the streets of Montreal, with some smashing bank windows and hurling objects at police. Protests have been going on for three months.

Quebec Premier Jean Charest said the proposed legislation would not roll back the tuition increases. Rather, it would temporarily halt the spring semester at faculties paralyzed by walkouts and push up the summer holidays. Classes would resume earlier in August.

The government also suggested it could include some harsh measures — such as stiff financial penalties for anyone preventing classrooms from opening.

The Quebec National Assembly is convening Thursday evening for a debate expected to last through the night into Friday.

Dozens of protesters on Wednesday stormed into a Montreal university, breaking up classes.

The government has pointed out that a majority of students in Quebec have quietly finished their semester and aren’t striking.

But many remain angry over the proposed tuition hikes.

The three-month conflict has caused considerable social upheaval in the French-speaking province, known for having more contentious protests than elsewhere in Canada.

There have been numerous injuries, countless traffic jams, a few smashed windows, subway evacuations, clashes with law enforcement and disruptions to the academic calendar.

The protests at times have mushroomed beyond the cause of cheap tuition, attracting a wide swath of other participants who dislike the provincial Liberal government or represent a variety of disparate causes ranging from environmentalism to Quebec independence and anarchy.

Mr. Charest said he would table emergency legislation aimed at ending the disorder while sticking to the planned tuition increases.

“It’s time for calm to be restored,” Mr. Charest said Wednesday. He added, “The current situation has lasted too long. … Quebecers have a right to live in security.”

Mr. Charest’s re-election prospects have been placed in further in doubt, raising the prospect that the pro-independence Parti Quebecois could gain power in an election expected later this year or next. Parti Quebecois leader Pauline Marois opposes any legislated crackdown on the protests and has been wearing the red square of the protest movement.

Under the latest version of its tuition plan, the government would increase fees by $254 per year over seven years.

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