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Pro-Palestine protests: Fresh stir in US college campuses, over 2,000 arrested – Times of India



NEW DELHI: In recent weeks, police have taken more than 2,000 individuals into custody during demonstrations supporting Palestine at universities across the United States.
The protests and arrests have taken place in nearly every part of the country, but in the last 24 hours, the University of California, Los Angeles has been the center of attention, where tumultuous scenes unfolded early Thursday as officers in riot gear clashed with protesters.
At UCLA, hundreds of demonstrators refused to comply with orders to disperse, with some creating human chains as police used flash-bangs to disperse the crowds.
Later on Thursday morning, workers cleared the protesters’ fortified encampment, removing barricades and using bulldozers to collect trash and tents. Some buildings were covered with graffiti.
The protests began at Columbia University on April 17, with students demanding an end to the Israel-Hamas conflict, which has claimed the lives of more than 34,000 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, according to the health ministry there. Israel initiated its offensive in Gaza after Hamas militants killed approximately 1,200 people, primarily civilians, and took around 250 hostages in an attack on southern Israel on Oct 7.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block stated on Thursday that the encampment had become “a focal point for serious violence as well as a huge disruption,” endangering people on campus, preventing students from attending classes, forcing building closures, and leading to class cancellations.
California Highway Patrol officers arrived at the UCLA campus in large numbers early Thursday, wearing protective gear and using batons to separate themselves from protesters, who were equipped with helmets and gas masks and chanted, “You want peace. We want justice.”
Officers warned protesters for hours that they would be arrested if they did not disperse, and there were scuffles and shoving between protesters and police. Police helicopters circled overhead, and the sound of flash-bangs filled the air. As arrests were made, police removed protesters’ helmets and goggles.
The law enforcement response and ongoing warnings contrasted with the events of Tuesday night, when counter-demonstrators attacked the pro-Palestinian encampment, throwing objects, using pepper spray, and tearing down barriers. The fighting continued for hours before police intervened, resulting in no arrests but at least 15 injured protesters. The lukewarm response from authorities drew criticism from various groups and leaders.
By Wednesday afternoon, a small city sprang up inside the reenforced encampment, with hundreds of people and tents on the quad. Demonstrators rebuilt the makeshift barriers around their tents while state and campus police watched.
Some protesters said Muslim prayers as the sun set, while others chanted “we’re not leaving” or passed out goggles and surgical masks. They wore helmets and headscarves, and discussed the best ways to handle pepper spray or tear gas.
Israel has branded the protests antisemitic, while Israel’s critics say it uses those allegations to silence opposition. Although some protesters have been caught on camera making antisemitic remarks or violent threats, protest organizers — some of whom are Jewish — call it a peaceful movement to defend Palestinian rights and protest the war.
US President Joe Biden on Thursday defended the students’ right to peaceful protest but decried the disorder of recent days.
Meanwhile, a Police officer fired the gun while clearing protesters from Columbia University administration building earlier this week.
More than 100 protesters were taken into custody during Columbia’s crackdown on Tuesday. They are part of more than 2,000 people who have been arrested during pro-Palestinian protests at college campuses across the United States in recent weeks.
Columbia’s demonstrators had seized Hamilton Hall early on Tuesday, ramping up their presence on the campus from a tent encampment that had been there since April 17. The encampment was one of the earliest on college campuses.
Despite more than 100 arrests on April 18 and the clearing of the tents, the protesters defied threats of suspension to return to the encampment. Then they escalated their demonstration by occupying Hamilton Hall, an administration building that was similarly seized in 1968 by students protesting racism and the Vietnam War.
(With inputs from Agencies)

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