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MONTREAL - A student demonstrator feared losing sight in one eye Thursday, as Quebec's increasingly bitter dispute over tuition-fee hikes threatened to heat up even more.
A student spokeswoman says tensions are high after 20-year-old protester Francis Grenier suffered a partially detached retina following the explosion of a police stun grenade during a demonstration Wednesday in downtown Montreal.
Seven people were arrested Wednesday during two protests — the latest in a string of demonstrations by students who believe Quebec's rock-bottom tuition rates are a basic right.
In the main protest, riot police armed with batons and tear gas charged into a group of demonstrators who were blocking access to a public building. Protesters pelted the helmeted officers with snowballs.
More demonstrations were scheduled for Thursday in Montreal and the city of Sherbrooke.
The ambulance service initially reported Wednesday that it had treated four people — including a police officer — for only minor injuries.
But Jeanne Reynolds, a spokeswoman for one of the student groups, described Grenier's injury as serious.
"We don't know yet whether he will lose his eyesight or not," Reynolds said.
"He's in bad shape, so he's resting right now."
Reynolds maintained that Grenier wasn't causing trouble when he was wounded. She said it's unacceptable that a student exercising his rights in a peaceful manner is now in hospital.
Reynolds believes the injury could boost fears and tensions with police during future protests, several of which have already been planned.
She said riot police overreacted in a "brutal" fashion during Wednesday's protest. Grenier was quoted in media reports saying that he was playing the harmonica alongside other protesters, when police moved in swiftly without giving people time to disperse.
"It was a reaction that was totally disproportionate with what was going on," Reynolds said.
Montreal police say they've interviewed the man and are trying to determine what happened.
"Certainly, we're going to investigate to see what caused this man's injuries," said department spokesman Raphael Bergeron, who described Grenier's injury as, "quite serious."
"Was it a device used by police, or something else?"
Students have been protesting tuition-fee increases the province plans to implement over the next five years.
The tuition rates for in-province students are the lowest in the country, while students who come to Quebec to study from elsewhere in Canada pay much higher fees.
Jean Charest's government says it plans to boost tuition rates by an extra $325 for each of the next five years. Such a climb would still leave Quebec with some of the lowest tuition rates in the country at $3,793 per year.
The government argues the added revenue will help preserve the quality of Quebec's universities.
But students who oppose the increases say higher fees would discourage some people from going to university.
Tens of thousands of students in Quebec have declared a strike in recent weeks and walked out of their classrooms. Others, meanwhile, have voted against taking such action or even voiced support for the hikes.
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