Protest threat at Montreal GP
Sebastian Vettel in Montreal qualifying (AP)
Montreal - Police stepped up security on Sunday to prevent student demonstrators from disrupting the Formula One Grand Prix here to bring attention to their bitter tuition fee battle.
Shield-wielding riot police pushed back and chased hundreds of protesters amassed in the downtown shopping district on Saturday night, arresting at least 28 people and pushing several protesters, some in masks, to the ground.
"We are in a real social crisis in Quebec. And at the moment we are witnessing police brutality, for no purpose, really," University of Montreal student Zac Daoust Lefebvre told AFP.
The crowd of protesters - mixed in with thousands of race fans and passers-by - ran, booed and cursed, before engaging in more confrontation as police shouted and unleashed pepper spray. Sirens blared and people occasionally screamed from the panic of being crushed.
For four months, students, joined by anti-capitalist and feminist groups, have held protests against the Quebec government's plans to increase tuition fees by 75 percent.
Negotiations between student groups and the province have broken down, and the protest movement have since morphed into a larger campaign of perceived government corruption, mismanagement and injustice.
Student groups are eager to take advantage of the expanded media presence and international visitors in Montreal for this Sunday's Grand Prix to publicise their tuition fight.
Police have responded with a bigger footprint, deploying numerous officers in the metro system and around the Circuit Gilles-Villeneuve to search bags and check identification documents.
A significant police presence also kept guard at the Jacques Cartier Bridge leading to the race track.
Shortly after 08:00 (12:00 GMT), a bomb alert in the metro system nearby briefly interrupted traffic before it turned out to be false. A man in his fifties was arrested in connection with the incident.
Several dozen police officers, including mounted patrols, kept watch as fans made their way onto Saint Helen's Island, next to Ile Notre-Dame where the track is located, ahead of the race's 14:00(18:00 GMT, 20:00 SA time) start.
On Saturday night, 22-year-old Jay Ilan, a recent Concordia University graduate, said police should do their job but that the "brutality could be avoided."
"They're dragging people across the ground. And they're trying to cover it up. They're trying to cover each other. It shows that they know what they're doing is wrong," he said, shaking his head.
Only a few metres away from the unrest, hundreds of well-heeled partygoers danced and drank into the night on terraces and in bars on Crescent Street to celebrate the Grand Prix.
Some held plastic cups of beer and shook their heads, shouting "get a job" to the protesters.