CHICAGO: A pro-Palestinian encampment dismantled on the campus of DePaul University, on Thursday. The encampment was one of many that popped up on campuses around the United States to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza. At least two demonstrators were detained by police as the camp was being dismantled.—AFP
CHICAGO: A pro-Palestinian encampment dismantled on the campus of DePaul University, on Thursday. The encampment was one of many that popped up on campuses around the United States to protest Israel’s actions in Gaza. At least two demonstrators were detained by police as the camp was being dismantled.—AFP

IRVINE: Police ‘took back’ control of a lecture hall, from pro-Palestinian protesters. They had occupied the building at the University of California, Irvine, for ‘some hours’. Police then went on to clear a student encampment that stood for more than two weeks, according to witnesses.

Officers from around 10 nearby law-enforcement agencies converged on the campus after university officials requested their ‘help’. Protesters had occupied the lecture hall, leading the school to declare it as a “violent protest”, police and university officials said.

Approximately four hours later, police ejected the protesters from both the lecture hall and the plaza that had been the site of the encampment, according to the university and press witnesses.

“The police have retaken the lecture hall” UC Irvine spokesperson, Tom Vasich stated via telephone from the scene. “The plaza has been cleared by law-enforcement officers.” Vasich said there were a “minimal number of arrests” and characterised the protesters as “begrudgingly cooperative.”

Activists have been calling for an immediate ceasefire in Gaza

Hours before midnight, the university informed that police activity had concluded on campus and all classes would be held remotely on Thursday. They asked employees not to come to campus.

The demonstration at Irvine, about 40 miles (65 km) south of Los Angeles, is the latest in a series of campus protests across the United States over the crisis in Gaza. Activists have been calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire and the protection of civilian lives, whilst simultaneously demanding universities divest from Israeli interests.

UC Irvine protesters established an encampment adjacent to the lecture hall on the 29 of April, in similar fashion to those at other universities in the country that have led to mass arrests and clashes with police.

In a letter posted later on in the day, University Chancellor Howard Gillman said: “My concern now is not the unreasonableness of their demands. It is their decision to transform a manageable situation that did not have to involve police into a situation that required a different response. I never wanted that. I devoted all of my energies to prevent this from happening.” On Wednesday 200 to 300 protesters took over the lecture hall, at a time when no classes were in session, Vasich said.

Police responded in riot gear, forming a barricade while an officer on a loudspeaker warned the crowd that they had formed an unlawful assembly and risked arrest if they remained, the Orange County Register reported.

Students chanted slogans, banged drums and hoisted banners, with rows of police standing nearby, according to journalists’. One banner hung from the building declared the site as the “Alex Odeh Hall” in honor of a Palestinian activist who was killed in a 1985 office bombing, in the nearby city of Santa Ana.

Four adjacent research buildings with potentially hundreds of people inside were locked down, and those inside were instructed to shelter in place, Vasich said. The university later altered that instruction and instead advised them ‘to leave’.

Shortly before nightfall, police moved in on the lecture hall and then engaged in a ‘tense standoff’ with protesters at the encampment.

Helmeted police officers’ wielding batons formed a line against protesters. Police gradually moved forward, pushing the students back every few minutes, until the officers ‘rushed towards the crowd’ and made further arrests.

Before long most demonstrators retreated, police held the otherwise empty plaza strewn with trash and a few onlookers remained at the periphery.

Since the day the encampment began, Gillman said the university has been in talks with students but has been unable to reach an agreement to find an “appropriate and non-disruptive” alternative site.

Gillman has said the university cannot selectively decide not to enforce rules against the illegal encampment and that “The University of California has made it clear it will not divest from Israel.”

“Encampment protesters have focused most of their demands on actions that would require the university to violate the academic freedom rights of faculty, the free speech rights of faculty and fellow students, and the civil rights of many of our Jewish students” Gillman said on Monday.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2024

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