Tens of thousands packed Montreal's streets Thursday to protest a tuition increase proposed by the government of Premier Jean Charest -- an increase that march organizers said is tantamount to a declaration of war on students.

Though exact numbers weren't available, some estimates put the crowd at around 200,000. Many students carried signs and shouted slogans decrying the fee increase.

During the largely peaceful protest, university and CEGEP students boycotted classes, and students from Dawson College in Montreal blocked the entrance to a metro station.

The demonstrations peaked in the afternoon as the throng of students and supporters gathered downtown to march through Montreal's streets and toward government offices. In spite of the rain, protesters focused on Charest's Montreal offices, and police intervened when some projectiles were hurled and fireworks were set off.

"This mobilization sends a clear message to the government that students will not accept higher tuition fees and will do everything in their power to overturn this decision," march organizers said in a statement.

Organizers said that the rally was among the largest education protests in a decade.

Quebec Finance Minister Raymond Bachand announced the province's tuition rates, by far lowest in the country, will increase by $325 a year over a five-year period as a means of increasing university funding and cutting provincial debt.

The increases will result in an annual tuition price tag of $3,793 for fulltime students in Quebec by 2017.

The current average annual tuition in Quebec is about $2,415. Even with the increase, Charest has said, Quebec's tuition rates will still be the lowest in the country.

Charest has vowed he will not back down on the tuition hike, which is being welcomed by university administrators who have claimed for years they are grossly underfunded and need a higher source of revenue.

Benjamin Audet of the Dawson Student Union told CTV Montreal that it's an unfair financial burden for this generation -- where access to education is more important than ever to get a good job -- to carry.

"The people who are in power now and are making these laws benefited from this cheap access to education," Audet said.

Tuition fees in Quebec have been frozen for 33 of the past 43 years. The tuition hike will give them $850 million more in operating revenues by the end of the five-year phase-in period.

But officials have said that the time has come to change the system and deal with funding shortfalls.

"When we compare the financing of Quebec universities to the rest of Canada, there is a $600 million shortfall," Daniel Zizian, director general of the Conference of Rectors and Principals of Quebec Universities, told The Canadian Press.

"We can't think that Quebec universities can continue to offer a quality education in the long term with a $600 million shortfall year after year."

There have been multiple protests since the measure was announced last year, including at Liberal caucus meetings and outside cabinet ministerial offices.

In April a protest march through Montreal turned violent and ended with police using stun grenades and pepper spray to disperse the crowd. Five people were arrested.