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Quebec protesters march through heavy rain and lightning

Protesters march through downtown Montreal banging pots and pans in protest of Bill 78 and in support of striking students across the province Friday, May 25, 2012


There was literally a storm of protest in Montreal Friday night.

Wind shook the trees, the skies darkened and the rain came pounding down as thousands of student protesters and their supporters began their 32nd nightly march, banging metal pots and pans as lightning flashed overhead.

Some brought raincoats or ponchos, but most shrugged off the downpour as the pelting water drenched their clothes and hair. They marched determinedly onward, squinting as the rain lashed their faces and puddles soaked their feet.

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Some used flags as shields against the rain and one man used the large stewing pot he'd been beating to cover his head as he walked.

"Politicians concerned about rising obesity rates might take note of M. Charest's success in getting Quebecers moving," tweeted Alison Sinclair.

They ranted against the provincial government's plan to increase tuition fees and its imposition of a new law that on Friday became the subject of two court challenges filed by lawyers for student federations and other interested groups.

The Charest government introduced Bill 78 in response to the escalating student protests over its plan to hike tuition fees by $325 a year over five years, beginning in September.

The government initially insisted that it would not back down, but later tried to appease the protesters by offering to spread the hikes over seven years, which would work out to increases of about $254 a year, and also by reducing some other fees.

The offer was rejected.

The government argues Bill 78 preserves the rights of students to attend school. Some students have been prevented from attending class by protesters.

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Police across Quebec have used the emergency legislation sparingly, but the groups mounting the legal challenge contend that Bill 78 severely restricts the fundamental rights of Quebecers.

One woman involved in Friday night's march took the idea of naked outrage a little too far for Montreal police. She stripped naked to march in the rain, and a man with her had just peeled off his shirt when they were surrounded by police on bicycles.

The couple was escorted to the side of the road where an officer sternly lectured the young brunette, waving his finger in her smiling face. As she began to slowly put her clothes back on the woman appeared somewhat taken aback when she noticed that TV crews were providing live coverage of the incident. The couple was then let go.

The demonstration remained peaceful, with just one arrest for a bylaw infraction.

As on previous nights, police maintained a significant presence, lining up across certain streets. Officers on horseback also clip-clopped along behind the marchers.

Marches were also held in some other Quebec communities Friday, including the provincial capital and Sherbrooke. There was even a small pot-banging protest in downtown Toronto to support the Quebec students.

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The tone of the Montreal march, despite the weather, reflected Thursday's peaceful outing which drew throngs out on a warm evening. Friday's march had a similar party vibe in the city where residents joke that there's a festival every five minutes.

Besides the symphony of clanking pots and pans — a Chilean tradition which people used to protest against dictators — demonstrators danced in the streets and small singing groups appeared in other areas, such as outside the park where the nightly demonstration kicks off.

The pot-banging wasn't limited to the demonstration however — more rang out from supporters on the sidewalk, and one taxi driver gleefully held up a heart-shaped baking pan that he beat with a metal spoon.

A man identified as Anastase Gentlethug tweeted, "Walmart has seen a big increase in pot sales this month."

On a less friendly note, there were reports of an incident in the downtown bar strip where students catcalled a man who gave them the single-digit salute from the sidelines.

The protest had been declared illegal by Montreal police the moment it began because no route had been provided to authorities. Police said that violated a municipal bylaw.

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