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Canada Quebec demonstrations shrink, but protesters warn of future battles

Demonstrators march to protest against the tuition hikes and Bill 78 in Quebec City, June 22, 2012. Bill 78 requires organizers of protests or gatherings of more than 50 people to inform the police 8 hours in advance or face severe penalties.

MATHIEU BELANGER/REUTERS

Large daytime protests are being held in Quebec today, just as they have for each of the last four months, on the 22nd of each month.

Thousands of people are marching in Montreal and Quebec City.

But the crowds are noticeably smaller than in the past.

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There are also smaller crowds at night-time marches, held every evening, and the student protests have been getting less media attention in recent days. Even Opposition Leader Pauline Marois has stopped wearing her red lapel square, the symbol of the protest movement.

But protesters and their supporters warn that this is only a prelude, in anticipation of two upcoming dates: the return to school planned in August and, possibly, a September provincial election.

Quebec solidaire MNA Amir Khadir, the only elected political leader still wearing the red square, says the students are getting some much-needed rest before the next big battles.

"Anyone counting on the movement running out of steam is making a mistake," Mr. Khadir told reporters in Montreal.

"Everyone taking a break today is doing it to bounce back stronger in August and September."

Students say they have strike votes planned for August, which is when the one-third of striking students have been legislated to return to class.

The province's controversial protest law, Bill 78, has declared a mid-August resumption of the school year for students who did not complete their winter-spring session. There are steep fines for people who block access to schools.

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It's unclear whether, and how, the law will affect classrooms. So far, its stipulations regarding street protests have largely been avoided — although they have been sternly condemned by the United Nations.

Now the students are weighing how to respond in what could be an active political season. They have already promised to do organizational work in ridings where the governing Liberals hold seats but appear weak, in an effort to defeat them.

"We'll continue mobilizing — with or without elections," said Jeanne Reynolds, one of the co-spokespeople for the CLASSE group.

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