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Three student activists made a dramatic escape from a rooftop kettle yesterday when supporters arrived with a ladder.
A group of around 30 students who had occupied Birmingham University's grand hall were being held by police in the pouring rain.
Dozens of other officers had arrived on the other side of the building and appeared to be moving in to make arrests as the Star went to press.
But three students got out at the last moment when a friend arrived on a bicycle with a huge ladder.
Students outside tried to create a diversion but a security guard spotted them before others could climb down.
It was the dramatic climax to a massive demonstration against education privatisation on the campus.
Earlier a smoke bomb had been thrown by one protester as students tried to surge past security guards into management offices.
Paint was sprayed over a CCTV camera before activists tore open the doors and attempted to shove past a dozen security guards amid red smoke.
When the group were forced back from the doors of vice-chancellor David Eastwood's office, some then occupied the nearby great hall.
Most of the more than 300 students who took part in the demonstration condemned the throwing of the smoke bomb.
They had earlier linked arms around the iconic clock tower at the heart of the campus.
That provided cover for other students to rush to the top and drop a white banner which stretched almost the entire 325-foot structure and read: "Free education."
Other protesters scurried across the balconies of imposing red-brick buildings to drop banners demanding: "Management out" and "Stop the privatisation of student loans."
People attending a university open day watched on the as the demonstration swarmed through campus.
The largely peaceful action was joined by students from across Britain who have staged high-profile anti-privatisation occupations on their own campuses.
Birmingham Guild of Students education officer Hattie Craig said yesterday was the culmination of those protests.
She told the Star: "This is the resurgence of the student movement and the biggest one we've seen since 2010.
"For the first time in a very long time, this is a student movement being proactive and putting its own demands out there rather than being defensive about what the government and universities are doing."
The students also agreed to start a new wave of protests from next week at a meeting in the university's chaplaincy.
Plans include a week of action against the sale of student loans from Monday, solidarity protests with striking university workers on February 6 and more sit-ins.
The Star requested a comment from Birmingham University but had not received a response at time of print.
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