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A demonstrator gives a peace sign in front of the Quebec flag with the symbolic red square in the middle during a student march in the streets of Montreal on Friday, June 22, 2012.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Quebec's most radical student advocacy group has decided to boycott the province's forthcoming higher-education summit as provincial leaders refuse to consider abolishing tuition fees.

Representatives of the Association pour une solidarité syndicale étudiante (ASSÉ) had threatened to stay away from the summit, to be held on Feb. 25 and 26, if the government did not commit to have free tuition on the table for discussion. After Minister of Higher Education Pierre Duchesne signalled that scrapping student fees was not an option, and a Monday meeting between the group and Premier Pauline Marois yielded no immediate detente, ASSÉ's snub seemed all but assured.

ASSÉ's leaders are working to rally thousands of students for street demonstrations on Feb. 26. Tensions over issues like tuition fees and government cuts to post-secondary funding continue to simmer, raising doubts about whether the gathering can produce a solution that will satisfy stakeholders.

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"The government has gone back on many of its engagements, notably keeping every option on the table and allowing for proper debate of these options at the summit on higher education," Jérémie Bédard-Wien, a spokesman for the group, said in an interview on Thursday.

The group fears the government has already decided to index tuition fees to inflation, and views the summit more as a public relations exercise than a real debate. "It's going to confirm decisions that have already been taken by this government behind closed doors. We see no other option but to quit the summit in order for ASSÉ not to legitimize it," Mr. Bédard-Wien said.

Through an adviser, Mr. Duchesne declined to comment on ASSÉ's decision, but Ms. Marois said ASSÉ members "are depriving themselves of a place to speak," and that "it's a shame but that is their choice and I respect it." Monday's meeting with the Minister and the Premier was characterized by "strong debates," according to Mr. Bédard-Wien, but the government stood firmly against free tuition.

University leaders have complained that plans for the summit are still unclear, while the union representing CÉGEP teachers has hinted its members might not show up. But so far, other student groups such as the Fédération étudiante universitaire du Québec (FEUQ) have signalled they will attend rather than protest, revealing a divide in the student movement that was united in last year's so-called "Maple Spring" demonstrations.

"Yes, we are following different strategies. The student movement is not always united," Mr. Bédard-Wien said.

ASSÉ speaks for student groups representing 70,000 Quebec students.

With files from Rhéal Séguin and The Canadian Press

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