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Police arrest a demonstrator outside the Montreal Convention Centre during a student demonstration Friday, April 20, 2012 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Amnesty International is wading into Quebec's student protests, taking aim at provincial authorities over their handling of the tuition battle.

The Canadian branch of the human-rights organization has asked the government to call for a toning down of police measures that, it said, are unduly aggressive and might potentially smother students' right to free expression.

In a news release published Tuesday, the group also urged the province to find a peaceful solution to the 11 weeks of sometimes rowdy demonstrations.

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"Amnesty reaffirms its concern regarding the tuition increases, which would undermine the progression to access to university for all," the group added in a statement.

That statement came as the protest movement involving tens of thousands of university and college students spread again Tuesday – this time to high school. Students at a pair of Montreal high schools declared a classroom boycott and picketed outside their schools.

Premier Jean Charest criticized those actions.

"There is no reason for secondary-school students to be boycotting their classes," Mr. Charest told reporters. "Especially because we're involved in discussions with the representatives from (student) associations."

The Quebec government is indeed in negotiations with student groups – though the sides are separated by an ideological chasm over the tuition-hike issue.

The government has made it clear it won't back down from planned fee increases, while students continue to insist on a reversal.

Despite that gap, the sides have been managing to huddle together this week in Quebec City for what is their first formal communication amid weeks of discord.

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The government is raising tuition by 75 per cent over five years, with a series of $325-a-year hikes that would place fees at $3,800 annually.

The Charest Liberals point out that, even with the increase, Quebec will still have some of the lowest rates in Canada.

The student protesters, however, say they're fighting for the principle of universal access to education.

Some protest leaders have even cast their struggle in broader ideological terms, with the anti-tuition movement serves as a lightning rod for other left-leaning causes and groups opposed to Mr. Charest.

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